Report: The VA illegally allowed hospitals to hire doctors with revoked medical licenses since 2002

Report: The VA illegally allowed hospitals to hire doctors with revoked medical licenses since 2002
A USA Today report says the Department of Veterans Affairs has illegally permitted its hospitals to repeatedly hire health care providers with revoked medical licenses. VA Secretary David Shulkin said he ordered a rewrite of the guidelines. (2014 file photo/Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images)

The Department of Veterans Affairs has illegally permitted its hospitals to repeatedly hire health care providers with revoked medical licenses since 2002, according to USA Today.

The report follows a USA Today investigation that revealed VA hospital officials knowingly hired doctors with past malpractice claims.

What happened?

USA Today reported that a federal law passed in 1999 bars the VA from employing any health care worker who has lost a medical license in any state. However, in 2002, the VA issued national guidelines permitting local hospitals to hire medical staff after “prior consideration of all relevant facts surrounding” any revoked licenses and as long as they still were licensed in at least one state.

An investigation by the paper found that hospital officials at the VA in Iowa City, Iowa, used the illegal guidelines when they hired neurosurgeon John Henry Schneider earlier this year. According to the report, although Schneider revealed in his application the state of Wyoming had revoked his license after numerous malpractice claims, settlements, and a patient death, he was hired anyway. He was still licensed in Montana.

The report said that the malpractice claims against Schneider included “cases alleging he made surgical mistakes that left patients maimed, paralyzed or dead, and that his veteran patients in Iowa already have suffered complications.”

One of those patients, Richard Joseph Hopkins, 65, died from an infection in August after four brain surgeries by Schneider within four weeks, the report said.

Schneider denied providing substandard care or causing complications for poor patient outcomes. He resigned last month after questions from USA Today. Hospital officials told USA Today they operated under “incorrect guidance” when they hired him.

Amy McIntire, Hopkins’ daughter and a registered nurse, told USA Today that she is “appalled by the ineptitude at the VA.”

“For it just to be ignored, it’s crazy,” said McIntire, arguing that the agency is large enough to have staff to make sure they are in compliance with federal law.

Schneider wasn’t the only questionable doctor on the VA payroll, The USA Today investigation found. In addition to Schneider, VA hospitals have knowingly hired others with licensing issues and in some cases, “they have gone on to harm veterans”:

A VA hospital in Oklahoma hired a psychiatrist previously sanctioned for sexual misconduct who went on to sleep with a VA patient. The VA in Tomah, Wis., hired a psychiatrist previously disciplined for medication violations who went on to overprescribe narcotics to veterans. A Louisiana VA clinic hired a psychologist with felony convictions. The VA ended up firing him after determining he was a “direct threat to others” and the VA’s mission.

What did the VA say?

VA Secretary David Shulkin told USA Today he ordered a rewrite of the guidelines and a nationwide review to determine if any other health care workers have revoked licenses and to fire those individuals.

“It’s very clear to me that our job is to have the best quality doctors that we can provide to take care of veterans, and that’s going to be our policy,” he said.

Shulkin added that health care providers with prior sanctions against their medical licenses such as reprimands will also be reviewed to ensure they are providing quality care to patients at VA hospitals.

Nearly 50 members of Congress in both parties have called on the VA to provide answers about its hospitals’ hiring practices since USA Today’s initial report.