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story.lead_photo.caption FILE — The Veterans Administration hospital in Fayetteville is shown in this 2017 file photo. - Photo by J.T. Wampler

FAYETTEVILLE — At least one death appears to have resulted from a missed diagnosis by a veterans hospital pathologist who worked while impaired, according to the first findings in a review of almost 20,000 cases that will take months, Veterans Department administrators and members of the Arkansas congressional delegation said Monday.

"We are treating this like a national disaster," Kelvin L. Parks, interim medical director at the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks, said during a Monday morning news conference.

The pathologist, whose name was withheld, was dismissed because of his impairment, Parks said. The doctor began work at the hospital in 2005 and was one of two pathologists at the center.

Thirty pathologists from around the state and region volunteered to review the impaired doctor's cases, he said. Pathologists who are not from the Veterans Department will review at least half the cases. The 30 pathologists will review the highest-risk cases first.

Letters to 19,794 veterans or family members whose tissue samples were reviewed by the pathologist are going out in the mail, Parks and other administrators said.

Initial results showed seven missed diagnoses out of 900 checked, according to Parks and Dr. Margie Scott of the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System, a pathologist who is overseeing the review.

"A family in my district lost a loved one because of a missed diagnosis," said Rep. Bruce Westerman of Hot Springs, who represents south Arkansas' 4th Congressional District. The state's congressional delegation was briefed in Washington, D.C., in Sen. John Boozman's office Thursday.

This was the second time the pathologist was discovered being impaired while diagnosing cases, according to hospital administrators. The first time was in 2016.

He was suspended, put through a recovery program and monitored upon resuming his duties. Meanwhile, his records for the previous year were checked and no problems were found, administrators said. The doctor had worked there since 2005 with no previous record of problems, his supervisors said. After the second instance in October of 2017, he was suspended again and later fired.

Cases all over the country are involved, said Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark. Veterans treated at the regional hospital since 2005 have since moved or were treated as they were passing through Northwest Arkansas.

The hospital sees about 53,000 patients each year.

Monday's news conference was held at the veterans hospital in Fayetteville at the urging of Womack, who represents Northwest Arkansas' 3rd District, according to other delegation members. Boozman, Womack and Westerman attended Monday, and the other three members of the state's congressional delegation who could not attend sent staff members.

In a statement, the delegation said the doctor's actions "put the health of our veterans at risk and will not be tolerated.

“Unfortunately, at this time, we don’t know the extent of this doctor’s misconduct. We call on the VA to notify patients whose cases were evaluated by this pathologist to thoroughly and expeditiously review their results so veterans can get the appropriate care they earned. Those impacted deserve nothing less.

The nature of the impairment was not disclosed at the news conference because it is a personnel matter, Parks said. U.S. Attorney Duane Kees of the Western District of Arkansas was present and confirmed his office has the matter under investigation but would not speculate on what, if any, charges might be involved.

Spokesmen for veterans groups present, including the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said they will use their social media networks to get out as much information as they can as soon as they can.

Read Tuesday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

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  • MaxCady
    June 18, 2018 at 1:34 p.m.

    He was getting high on his own supply!

  • BobfromMarion
    June 18, 2018 at 2:24 p.m.

    TravisBickle says...
    June 18, 2018 at 1:34 p.m.
    He was getting high on his own supply!

    Perhaps so. This impairment may become a tragedy if it is found that a proper diagnosis most likely would have seen medical treatment provided that doctors are reasonably sure would have resulted in the patient not dying due to the lack of needed medical treatment. However, the investigation may show that the death wasn't directly related to this misdiagnosis.

    While this may become a national news item resulting from this investigation, it is important to also consider that there are several lead articles listed in this email. One article tells of how the driver and three passengers were killed in a car/train accident. another article tells of the death of a driver killed when his car veered into incoming traffic and collided with two other vehicles.

    If the information provided in these two other articles listed in this email are correct, there may have been five deaths due to negligence of some kind by three different people. We get several emails a day. Five deaths listed in this batch of emails would indeed be a tragedy. Unfortunately, we have become numb to deaths caused by negligence.

  • MARYJON3387
    June 18, 2018 at 2:30 p.m.

    I guess the question I would ask is how many cases were misdiagnosed in the private sector and don't try to tell me it never happens! No I do not work for the VA I am a 100 percent disabled vet

  • RBBrittain
    June 18, 2018 at 6:44 p.m.

    Much of the speculation here is uncalled for. For one, we don't know yet exactly HOW he was "impaired", though his referral to a recovery program suggests it was probably either alcohol or drugs. For another, though I'm sure misdiagnoses do happen in the private sector, they are irrelevant to this case except as a possible control statistic for the review; ANY misdiagnosis proven to have been caused by this doctor's impairment is improper.

  • skeptic1
    June 18, 2018 at 7:12 p.m.

    What do you call a medical student that graduated at the bottom of their class....Doctor.

  • gagewatcher
    June 18, 2018 at 8:36 p.m.

    good grief ! how many times does a person have to be caught "impaired" on the job to be canned and run out of town. ? this is tragic and ridiculous. sounds like a chapter in the book I'm currently reading "Don't let your Doctor kill you". Heaven help our brave vets and forgive us for this disgrace.

  • LR1955
    June 18, 2018 at 11:55 p.m.

    Doctors “practice” medicine.