Veteran settles for $250K in Palo Alto VA claim


A veteran who claimed he was blinded because of negligent medical care at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System has settled with the U.S. government for $250,000, according to court records.

David E. Woodward Sr., 87, was receiving eye care at the hospital in 2003 and was diagnosed with suspected glaucoma a year later.

But four hospital optometrists did not treat him for the disease during a nearly 5-year period, despite finding progression of the disease. An immediate need for treatment to avoid blindness was not provided, according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court in San Jose in 2009.

The optometrists also violated hospital protocol when they did not send him to an ophthalmologist, who specializes in eye diseases, according to the complaint.

Woodward began receiving treatment in July 23, 2009, after his case was taken over by the ophthalmology department.

But just eight days later, on July 31, he and six other eye patients were informed by hospital officials that an internal breakdown within the Palo Alto VA had resulted in flawed evaluation and treatment that could have led to their blindness, according to letters from the VA.

The discovery was made after an intensive review of treatment of more than 300 glaucoma patients and of those at risk for the disease.

In 2005, Woodward had lost 30 percent of vision in his right eye and 40-percent loss in his left eye. By 2009, he had lost 90 percent of his vision in the right eye and 85 percent in the left, according to court papers.

Woodward has become legally blind, has suffered physical and emotional pain and experienced anxiety and depression, according to the complaint.

"As we discussed, we have recently reviewed your eye care and have determined that some of the vision loss you suffered may have been preventable had you received a different course of therapy.

"I deeply regret that you did not receive the very best possible care, and are making changes to ensure that every veteran receive care of the highest possible standard," Dr. Stephen Ezeji-Okoye, deputy chief of staff, wrote to Woodward in August 2009, apologizing for the improper care.

Ezeji-Okoye invited Woodward to file an administrative claim for damages, but the government rejected his claim in September 2009.

Kim Staskus, Woodward's attorney, said Woodward battles a number of service-related disabilities resulting from his service as a submariner in the Navy during World War II.

"His submarine sank 14 enemy ships in the Sea of Japan and the South China seas, and he served his country with distinction.

"I'm sure you can appreciate that he did not want to spend the precious time he has left embroiled in litigation.

"While he has lost most of his peripheral vision due to glaucoma, he can still see with reduced vision in a straight-ahead direction. The VA paid a fair settlement in the situation and Mr. Woodward is pleased with the result."

Kerri Childress, spokeswoman for the Palo Alto VA, said she could not speak about the settlement, but did provide a written statement regarding changes to patient eye care:

"VA is dedicated to the quality and safety of the health care provided to America's veterans. It only took one veteran to trigger our investigations and medical evaluations that have now ensured the proper care for every other veteran receiving eye care at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System.

"Following the discovery of this information, the chief of the optometry section was put on administrative leave. The optometry section was moved directly under the ophthalmology section for closer supervision and all glaucoma patients are now being seen by the ophthalmology section.

"We want to ensure all our veterans that we care deeply and monitor our programs thoroughly.

"However, VAPAHCS encourages any veteran who is concerned about their eye care to speak with their physician or provider to ensure they have been appropriately evaluated and treated, or call the patient advocate at 650-493-5000, extension 63543.

"We appreciate the sacrifice you made for our country and will do all we can to ensure your health care is second to none."

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Like this comment
Posted by Doug Grayson
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 10, 2010 at 6:26 pm

They call themselves doctors, but never went to medical school. OD's are not MD's !

Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 11, 2010 at 1:12 pm

The issue of using ophthalmologist over optometrists in treating glaucoma in our state is a political hot potato. The article doesn't say this, but California is one of the few states where optometrists are restricted in treating glaucoma. The reason is simple: money.

Ophthalmologists tend to charge higher fees for care and office visits. Optometrists are more plentiful, readily available and charge lower fees. In many other states, both can dispense identical medications and give the same level of treatment. No doubt, a board certified ophthalmologist is trained to do many more wonderful and amazing things in managing a complex glaucoma case. But not every case is complex. Visiting a qualified health professional for glaucoma treatment is much better than no treatment, or delayed treatment. Restrictions on insurance coverage or the delay in getting an appointment at a busy ophthalmologist office shouldn't be reasons to put off treatment in California. But, it happens everyday in our state.

While Mr. Woodward's case is written in a compelling and heart tugging manner, it doesn't fill in the details of where things went wrong at the Palo Alto VA. On the surface, the article makes it appear that both the VA and optometrists, in general, are unqualified in providing proper care. That's nonsense, and especially not true in this case. Mr. Woodward repeatedly refused additional visual field tests which would have helped uncover his problem and Mr. Woodward never followed up on referrals to VA ophthalmologists from the VA optometrists. This is typical of patients in advanced age. Elderly patients believe that need better eye glasses, not a medical doctor. There are no tell-tale symptom of glaucoma in its early stages, so elderly don't want to visit an MD. In end, the VA optometrist should have refused to even allow a visit by Mr Woodward and forced him to see an ophthalmologist. But that wasn't possible the way the departments were organized at the VA during this time, so Mr. Woodward gets a $250,000 payday.

In the end, it's not about OD or MD, it's about $D.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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