1200 vets mistakenly told they’re dying from ALS

posted at 2:55 pm on August 24, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

Just as the Obama administration tries to reassure people that the government can manage the health-care system more competently than what we have now, one of its single-payer systems demonstrates exactly what we can expect from ObamaCare.  The VA mistakenly informed 1200 veterans that they have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a 100% fatal condition.  They blamed it on a “coding error” (via JWF):

At least 1,200 veterans across the country have been mistakenly told by the Veterans Administration that they suffer from a fatal neurological disease.

One of the leaders of a Gulf War veterans group says panicked veterans from Alabama, Florida, Kansas, North Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming have contacted the group about the error.

Denise Nichols, the vice president of the National Gulf War Resource Center, says the VA is blaming a coding error for the mistake.

The notifications went out in a letter intending to inform ALS sufferers about the benefits available to them through the VA.  At that time, one of those benefits was end-of-life counseling and access to “Your Life, Your Choices,” the booklet that refers veterans to the Hemlock Society when they feel life is no longer worth living.  I wonder how many of these veterans were given the booklet?

By the way, that booklet has been removed from at least a portion of the VA website, according to David Freddoso:

Jim Towey wrote last week in the Wall Street Journal that Obama’s Veterans’ Affairs department had revived a controversial and previously discontinued 53-page pamphlet on end-of-life issues for wounded soldiers. The debate over what Towey calls the “Death Book” bodes so poorly for the president’s position in the health care debate that, after two segments on Fox News discussing the pamphlet this morning, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs has apparently pulled the booklet from one part of its website where it had been linked by several bloggers. (UPDATE: The document still exists in another spot on the site, as NRO’s Jonah Goldberg informs me.)

This certainly will have people feeling very confident in the ability of the federal government to issue diktats on medical care.  Can you imagine what these veterans and their families went through before eventually discovering that the VA made a “coding error”?

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Laura in Maryland on August 24, 2009 at 4:41 PM

And your bank accounts.

dogsoldier on August 24, 2009 at 5:36 PM

1200 Vets were on their way to the Death Panel b/c of a Coding Error.

Proves everyones point including my own, the Government can’t run anything!

BigMike252 on August 24, 2009 at 5:38 PM

LevStrauss on August 24, 2009 at 2:57 PM

They should receive mental anguish compensation. One of my best friend’s husband has ALS. There are no words to describe how truly awful it is. Of course, with the government, there is no recourse for any errors.

Personal experience/nightmare with gov’t run healthcare: While on my two week active training at a Navy school with the USNR several years ago, I became very ill. I won’t go into the gruesome details; suffice it to say it was GI related… Anyway, since I was on active duty at the time, they sent me to the base clinic where I was asked questions like had I been to foreign countries where I might have been exposed to parasites, etc…was it possible I was pregnant? No to the first, yes to the second, so they did a blood test to check for pregnancy. Test comes back negative so the doc gives me a heavy duty antibiotic drug. I hesitated to take the drug, but I get sicker, so finally take one dose of the drug then barely make it home 40 minutes drive away. When I get there, the phone rings and my husband informs me that it has been ringing off the wall and no one leaves any sort of message.

I answer and it is the clinic. The doc: “There was an error in your test. You are pregnant. Don’t take that prescription.”

me: “What do you mean an error?”

doc: “There was a mix up in the lab.”

me: “Mix up? How was there a mix up? I wrote my name and social on the vial myself?”

doc: “I’m not sure what happened. I’ll look into it, but for now, you need a different prescription.”

Me: “I already took it.”

doc: “Well…one dose shouldn’t be a problem.”

Me: *getting very upset* “What do you mean, shouldn’t be a problem?”

doc: “That drug is contraindicated in first trimester of pregnancy. I’ll call in another prescription for you. What is your pharmacy blah blah….”

Long story less long, I go back to see her and I’m pissed. I wanted to know what the mix up was and what was being done about it. I also wanted to know what was going to be done if something was wrong with my child due to the contraindicated drug, which turned out to be caused by the careless mistake of some tech who mixed up my blood with some guys. I’m sure the guy was shocked to learn he was pregnant! Of course, he’s the one who ended up cluing them in. If he hadn’t, how long and how much of that medicine might I have taken? What if I hadn’t gone home, but decided to stay at a hotel and they hadn’t been able to get in touch with me? (I was tempted because I was so ill.) I was told that pretty much nothing would be done, no penalty for the tech, etc… and I was just sh*t out of luck, more or less. This is the government, after all.

Then, to pour salt on the wound, the Navy ends up trapping me in the med system even after I got off my AT, since I had already seen a Navy doc for whatever had made me so sick. Every pregnant wife I knew got champused out to their personal doctors. Me, I get sent down to the Navy Hospital where I’m nothing but a number (and my HUSBAND’s number no less). Then they still managed to mix up my records with another person and get nasty with me for being less than understanding. Oh, and they also screwed up another lab test, one which was quite painful (though it shouldn’t have been), then messed it up on the second time. I told them no way were they doing a third. The facility was a mess, filthy biohazardous material overflowing the garbage cans, even at the early appointments. (I don’t think some of that stuff was supposed to even be in regular trash.) Ugh…

It took me nearly four months of fighting and writing and I had to go all the way to the top Admiral in DC to get released so that I could see my own doctor, whom I had been seeing through Champus/TriStar for nearly 3 years prior to getting pregnant. It was a nightmare, particularly since I’d already had a terrible experience with Navy Medicine when I blew out my knee on active duty. (I’ll spare you that tale.) I felt sorry for the active duty who couldn’t petition to be released to private care.

That’s just a snippet of my personal experience. I have a sister who is an RN and worked in one of the VA hospitals. She has stories, too… I’m not saying that there are no good individual doctors or nurses in the military system. There are. In the interest of full disclosure, I did have a very good experience with an Air Force dentist who cut out my wisdom teeth when I was on active duty. On the other hand, my husband is in the process (very expensive one) of finally having a dental implant to replace a tooth the Navy screwed up. He’s been without a tooth for some 11 years (back of the mouth, fortunately ) because he didn’t trust the dentists who ruined it in the first place. But the system is not a good place to be stuck in. There is no competition, nothing you can do if they botch something through incompetence or carelessness….

But anyway, I’ve experienced government run health care and I don’t ever want to have to do it again. EVER!

Sorry for the rant, but it was all very traumatic!

pannw on August 24, 2009 at 5:39 PM

I was thinking the same thing…this sure sounds like a test run to me. Sounds like the Marxists are looking for a substitute for the Death Panels – sort of a self-serve, do-it-yourself Death Panel. Evil monsters!

redwhiteblue on August 24, 2009 at 3:26 PM

Now that is evil…
Tell Vets they have ALS
To test “success” rate.

Haiku Guy on August 24, 2009 at 5:43 PM

Now I really want the Government running my health care.

I mean just think about how happy you’d be when you found out you weren’t really suffering from a terminal illness after all. We could spread that happiness to everyone for only a couple trillion dollars.

**** dark sarcasm, sometimes harder to recognize than regular sarcasm.

gekkobear on August 24, 2009 at 6:10 PM

I am going to school for coding and if I ever make this mistake someone shoot me. How did 1200 mistakes get made is my question?How many people were doing the code wrong and why were they across the US. Most coding is done locally so how did all these coders code this wrong?

Gracelynn on August 24, 2009 at 6:34 PM

Yeah sure “mistakenly” uh huh! Kinda seems like the ole soylent green solution don’t it?

sonnyspats1 on August 24, 2009 at 6:37 PM

“Now, I don’t have all the facts, but it’s clear that the Veteran’s Administration acted stupidly.”

VekTor on August 24, 2009 at 6:59 PM

I’m shocked

The same government agency that was a party in one of the largest identity thefts made another mistake?

F15Mech on August 24, 2009 at 7:16 PM

Now that they found out it was a mistake I bet they consider themselves the luckiest men on the face of the earth.

LevStrauss on August 24, 2009 at 2:57 PM

I’m still laughing. +100

mrt721 on August 24, 2009 at 7:58 PM

ALS is one of the worst ways to die.

Your body starts shutting down, slowly and your mind becomes very aware of your body shutting down.

“ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a neurodegenerative disease that slowly destroys the brain’s ability to communicate with the body’s muscles, and the fate of everyone with the disease is a gradual decline of the muscles’ ability to move, leading to paralysis, and eventually death.

There is no cure, and once a patient is diagnosed, life expectancy is rarely more than about six years. It’s one of the worst ways to die, a death sentence with no hope for recovery, and as yet no approved therapies to arrest the progression.”

If there is a disease that would cause one to seriously look at “checking out” under your own terms this is it!

DSchoen on August 24, 2009 at 9:28 PM

Back in 1998 while I was on active duty my wife suffered a stroke and was taken to the Naval Hospital here in SD. After she recovered she was given a referral to see a neurologist at Balboa. We would have to wait 2-3 weeks to see one and every time it was someone else. So after 4 months of this we went out and got a civilian neurologist through Tricare and have been pleased with the choice ever since. When I retired last year I couldn’t wait to get me a civilian doctor that I could see and that wouldn’t change every year. I am eligible to use the VA for my health care as I received a 50% disability when I retired, but I have chosen to use Tricare and pay for it so that I won’t suck up money from the Vets that really need to use the VA.

ic1redeye on August 25, 2009 at 11:27 AM