KARE 11 Investigates: Unqualified VA doctors performed 25,000 TBI exams

Unqualified VA doctors performed exams

MINNEAPOLIS - The Department of Veterans Affairs plans to contact nearly 25,000 veterans nationwide to say they’re entitled to new exams for traumatic brain injuries, known as TBI’s.

That’s the latest development in a KARE 11 News investigation that revealed the VA had been using doctors who, by its own policy, were not qualified to diagnosis TBI’s.

Officials say VA Secretary Robert McDonald has decided to grant what’s called “equitable relief” to all of the veterans affected by the improper exams.  According to David McLenachen, the VA’s Deputy Undersecretary for Disability Assistance, the decision means that veterans who were improperly denied could be eligible for retroactive TBI benefits.

KARE 11 exposed the TBI diagnosis problem in a series of reports beginning on August 5, 2015. According to VA policy, initial traumatic brain injury exams must be performed by doctors in one of four specialties, including neurology and neurosurgery.

But KARE 11 documented the cases of Minnesota veterans who were denied TBI benefits after exams performed by medical staffers who weren’t specialists.  In one case, a veteran was examined by a nurse practitioner, not a neurologist.

One day after KARE’s initial report, Minneapolis VA Health Care Systems Director Patrick Kelly wrote in an email to his staff, "It's true that we used the wrong type of examiner on some initial TBI exams from 2010-2014."

Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN) immediately called for a nationwide investigation.  "It's certainly possible if it happened in Minneapolis it's possible, and I would argue probable, it happened elsewhere," Walz said at the time.

VA officials say later that month they ordered an expanded internal review of TBI exams done since 2007 at all Department of Veterans Affairs facilities.

In addition to the more than 300 cases in Minneapolis KARE 11 originally reported, the VA now says it has identified approximately 24,800 other cases in which TBI exams were not done by the proper specialists.

In more than half of those cases the VA says veterans did receive a TBI diagnosis, but the severity of the injury may not have been assessed properly.

So far, it identified 8,000 cases in which veterans were not diagnosed with TBI’s and were denied benefits.

Veterans in both categories will soon be notified that they can request new evaluations, this time by qualified specialists.

An official announcement is expected later this week.


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