The VA scandal was just the beginning.
According to Internal documents obtained by New York Times, US military healthcare is "a system in which scrutiny is sporadic and avoidable errors are chronic." As the NYT reports In Military Care, a Pattern of Errors but Not Scrutiny, "the military system has consistently had higher than expected rates of harm and complications in two central parts of its business — maternity care and surgery."
Among the findings:
- More than 50,000 babies are born at military hospitals each year, and they are twice as likely to be injured during delivery as newborns nationwide, the most recent statistics show. And their mothers were more likely to hemorrhage after childbirth than mothers at civilian hospitals, according to a 2012 analysis conducted for the Pentagon.
- In surgery, half of the system’s 16 largest hospitals had higher than expected rates of complications over a recent 12-month period, the American College of Surgeons found last year. Four of the busiest hospitals have performed poorly on that metric year after year.
As the NYT observes, "based on Pentagon studies, court records, analyses of thousands of pages of data, and interviews with current and former military health officials and workers, indicates that the military lags behind many civilian hospital systems in protecting patients from harm. The reasons, military doctors and nurses said, are rooted in a compartmentalized system of leadership, a culture of interservice secrecy and an overall failure to make patient safety a top priority."
One would think that when caring for the nation's veterans, the healthcare system - whose very existence one can say is a direct function of the US military's intervention around the globe - would pay particular attention. One would be wrong: the military’s reports show a steady stream of the sort of mistakes that patient-safety programs are designed to prevent.
The most common errors are strikingly prosaic — the unread file, the unheeded distress call, the doctor on one floor not talking to the doctor on another. But there are also these, sprinkled through the Pentagon’s 2011 and 2012 patient-safety reports:
- A viable fetus died after a surgeon operated on the wrong part of the mother’s body.
- A 41-year-old woman’s healthy thyroid gland was removed because someone else’s biopsy result had been recorded on her chart.
- A 54-year-old retired officer suffered acute kidney failure and permanent hearing loss after an incorrect dose of chemotherapy.
- In 2011, 50 unexpected deaths were identified but only 25 analyses submitted.
- The next year, the center was informed of 110 deaths but received only 44 root-cause analyses.
- In 2013, the report documented 79 deaths and 31 root-cause analyses.
The NYT slams a system rife with abuse: "The patient-safety system is broken," Dr. Mary Lopez, a former staff officer for health policy and services under the Army surgeon general, said in an interview.
“It has no teeth,” she added. “Reports are submitted, but patient-safety offices have no authority. People rarely talk to each other. It’s ‘I have my territory, and nobody is going to encroach on my territory.’ ”
In an internal report in 2011, the Pentagon’s patient-safety analysts offered this succinct conclusion about military health care: “Harm rate — unknown.”
In short, America's veterans and military forces: proud recipients of the worst health care America has to offer.
We sincerely urge US veterans to avoid the following military hospitals like the plague.