MINNEAPOLIS - "We let these veterans down." That was the message today from Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald as the VA officially announced details of a plan to offer new Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) exams to nearly 25,000 veterans nationwide.
The decision comes in the wake of a KARE 11 News investigation which exposed how the VA was using unqualified doctors to do TBI exams, often denying veterans the benefits and treatment they deserved.
"That is why we are taking every step necessary to grant equitable relief to those affected to ensure they receive the full benefits to which they are entitled," McDonald said in a written statement.
The so-called "equitable relief" decision impacts veterans in all 50 states and includes exams conducted since 2007. It means veterans who were misdiagnosed will be able to collect retroactive benefits.
The VA is offering the new exams to veterans whose initial TBI exams were not done by medical specialists, as required by VA policy. VA guidelines state that only four types of highly trained specialists are allowed to diagnose whether a veteran has a TBI, including neurosurgeons and neurologists.
KARE 11's investigation identified cases in which a veteran was examined by a nurse practitioner, not a neurologist.
"I wish I wasn't here talking to you about this and that we had got it right the first time," said David McLenachen, the VA's Deputy Undersecretary for Disability Assistance, when he briefed KARE 1's A. J. Lagoe on the plan last week.
Lagoe: "The expectation was that they should initially see a TBI specialist?" asked Lagoe.
McLenachen: "Yes, that was the expectation."
Lagoe: "That didn't always happen?"
McLenachen: "That's correct."
In all, the VA says it has now identified 24,905 veterans nationwide who received improper exams.
In Minnesota, 1,059 veterans were impacted. North Carolina had the most with 2,992. Georgia and Washington State each had more than 2,000. The nearly 25,000 veterans in big cities and small towns across America will soon be getting a letter notifying them they were the victims of what the VA calls now calls an injustice.
"I'm happy that we've identified this problem and we're attacking it and I regret that it happened," McLenachen said.
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