Who Protects the Protectors?

No one can be certain of the effects that the rigors of war will have on individuals, but it seems evident that everything should be done to help soldiers recover from injuries–whether mental, emotional, or physical–that are a result of entering into combat. However, it appears that those who have jeopardized their lives in the military have not always received quality treatment when returning to the United States. This belief that those who risk their lives for the safety of the United States of America makes the following article particularly tragic, as it concerns the Department of Veterans Affairs and wrongful death cases.

A Disturbing Problem

veteran hospital deathPer the Center for Investigative Reporting, the Department of Veteran Affairs paid nearly 1,000 families for wrongful death settlements, including 59 settlements in California. The cases include such careless behavior like: failing to remove a central-line catheter in a hospitalized veteran causing his immediate death; veterans who shot or hanged themselves after being refused treatment by a hospital; and an elderly veteran who was paralyzed from the neck down after a fall due to a lack of attention by the hospital staff, even though his sister had warned them that her brother should not be alone. The central theme is that veterans came to hospitals or nursing homes to receive assistance and received poor and inadequate care. These events are even more tragic as independent legal analysts believe that many more people have died from the negligent behavior of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the 1,000 wrongful death settlements represent merely a small percentage of their victims. Congress is investigating the Department of Veterans Affairs to ascertain how many of these deaths were preventable. At a Congressional hearing, representatives accused the department of having failed to discipline officials for these deaths. Lawmakers mentioned that rather than facing discipline for these deaths, many executives received performance bonuses.

Actual and Punitive Damages

Unfortunately, due to the fact that the veterans died under the care of the Veterans Affairs, it limits the compensation that loved ones can receive for wrongful death. When there is a wrongful death case, a party may often have an opportunity to receive damages based on the principle of punitive damages. Punitive damages consist of compensation meant to go beyond what is considered necessary to compensate an individual for their losses. The amount of money believed to provide restitution would be considered actual damages. Punitive damages are meant to punish defendants for especially egregious behavior and provide an incentive so that others do not behave similarly. However, because the Department of Veterans Affairs is part of the federal government, victims can only receive actual, and not punitive, damages.

The lawyers at the Appel Law Firm LLP have experience in handling wrongful death lawsuits. Do not let a potentially lengthy process deter you from obtaining justice. We have the experience and patience required to navigate the process. If you feel that a loved one’s death may be the result of negligent behavior, you should contact the Appel Law Firm LLP to discuss your options.

Photo Credit: Ted Van Pelt via Compfight cc

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