In an article published in The New York Times on December 20, 2014, the professional and financial risks that military hospital whistleblowers are exposed to were highlighted and discussed. While whistleblowers at civilian hospitals in the United States face many of the same risks to their careers when they raise important issues regarding patient care and patient safety, military medical personnel who attempt to “do the right thing” by bringing deficient or dangerous situations to the attention of their supervisors often face serious threats to both their military and medical careers.
One unique circumstance faced by military medical personnel is that military rank may trump medical rank: a nurse who is a Major in the Army outranks the Captain-physician who is her supervisor, which results in a situation that may stress the professional relationship. Additionally, those who bring unsafe or medically-inappropriate situations to the attention of their immediate supervisors know that they may be punished for speaking up by being transferred to other, less-desirable facilities, which they cannot successfully challenge, while their supervisors will not face any discipline or negative consequences as a result. Thus, the military command structure can warp the typical hierarchy that exists in hospitals that may lead to unintended consequences that affect patient safety and care.
Because active military personnel cannot sue for medical negligence regarding medical treatment they received or failed to receive, that lack of accountability affects the incentive to provide appropriate and timely medical treatment. Furthermore, non-active-duty patients who receive medical care at military hospitals may only sue the federal government if they are injured due to medical negligence (they cannot sue individual negligent medical providers), which also limits the accountability of those providing improper medical care.
Even the military-way-of-life can affect the provision of medical care and patient safety: the military ethos is built on following commands, and does not support or condone questioning authority. Hence, it may be difficult if not impossible for a lesser ranked military medical provider to question a supervisor, which affects the review and assessment of military medical care that may have resulted in unexpected injury or other adverse events (in civilian hospitals, established procedures and protocols for honest and open evaluation of the causes and prevention of medical negligence are intended to increase patient safety).
Another issue with military hospitals and other military medical facilities that has been raised by some is the lack of adequate training for medical personnel and the lack of qualified staffing. The VA has been under attack recently for the amount of time it takes for patients to receive medical appointments, and the VA has been investigated for allegedly “cooking the books” with regard to the time it takes to receive appropriate medical care.
If you or a loved one may have been injured or suffered other serious harms due to the lack of timely and appropriate medical care or treatment at a military hospital, a VA medical center, or at another military medical facility in the United States, you should promptly seek the legal advice of a medical malpractice attorney in your U.S. state who handles such claims, and who may investigate and represent you in a medical malpractice claim, if appropriate.
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