Iowa veteran Anthony French needed surgery to remove a brain tumor in 2017. The Veterans Health Administration neurosurgeon who conducted his procedure had a revoked medical license and was embroiled in malpractice lawsuits at the time he performed French’s surgery.
After the surgery, French told his surgeon he was still experiencing symptoms, but the surgeon allegedly put him off, telling him he would improve over time.
But French did not improve and another doctor discovered that the surgeon had not removed French’s brain tumor.
Backed by photos of family in uniform and other military memorabilia in her sunlit Senate office, Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, an Army National Guard veteran and the first woman combat veteran elected to the Senate, told French’s story.
“Now he’s gone all this time without proper treatment,” Ernst told Connecting Vets in an exclusive interview Tuesday. French’s plight inspired Ernst to introduce the Ensuring Quality Care for Our Veterans Act.
“What we want to achieve now is that any veteran treated by a physician with a revoked license, there would be a third-party review of those record to ensure that proper treatment was given to the patients,” she said. “There is not a large cost to go back and see if anything has been missed, but we think that’s imperative. We have promised these veterans that they would receive proper care at our VAs and we need to follow up on that.”
Ernst said she also hopes, if the legislation passes, it will make Veterans Administration hiring practices more accountable.
“Bringing it to light that they are not supposed to hire people with revoked licenses and they need to further scrutinize their hiring practices,” she said. “I know we are short physicians and nurses across the VA, but that doesn’t mean we start allowing substandard care.”
The bill requires the VA to enter into a contract with a third party to review all care providers in the VHA who had a license terminated for cause by a state licensing board for care or services at non-VA hospitals.
Any veteran treated by those providers (doctors, nurses or other employees) would be notified if the third party reviewer finds any below-standard care in the provider’s records, according to the bill.
Committee hearings have been held on the bill, but there has not yet been a vote to move it to the floor. Ernst said she’s hopeful to see it pass this year and doesn’t expect opposition.
“It’s a message to those patients that we do truly care about you,” she said. “You have earned care at the VA and we want to make sure you are receiving that care. Because the VA has failed you in hiring a physician that should not be there, we’re going to go back … and make sure if you did not receive the care you should have … that you get the care you deserve.”