VA Knowingly Hires Doctors With History of Malpractice and Leaving Patients Injured or Dead

Kathy Monaco poses for a portrait on Oct. 22, 2015, holding a picture of her husband Russ and daughters Mallory, left, and Madison. Russell Monaco died in 2011 at the age of 47.
© Larry Mayer, Billings Gazette

Neurosurgeon John Henry Schneider racked up more than a dozen malpractice claims and settlements in two states, including cases alleging he made surgical mistakes that left patients maimed, paralyzed or dead.

He was accused of costing one patient bladder and bowel control after placing spinal screws incorrectly, he allegedly left another paralyzed from the waist down after placing a device improperly in his spinal canal. The state of Wyoming revoked his medical license after another surgical patient died.

Schneider then applied for a job earlier this year at the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Iowa City, Iowa. He was forthright in his application about the license revocation and other malpractice troubles.

But the VA hired him anyway.

He started work in April at a hospital that serves 184,000 veterans in 50 counties in Iowa, Illinois and Missouri.

Some of his patients already have suffered complications. Schneider performed four brain surgeries in a span of four weeks on one 65-year-old veteran who died in August, according to interviews with Schneider and family members. He has performed three spine surgeries on a 77-year-old Army veteran since July — the last two to try and clean up a lumbar infection from the first, the patient said.

Schneider’s hiring is not an isolated case.

A VA hospital in Oklahoma knowingly hired a psychiatrist previously sanctioned for sexual misconduct who went on to sleep with a VA patient, according to internal documents. A Louisiana VA clinic hired a psychologist with felony convictions. The VA ended up firing him after they determined he was a “direct threat to others” and the VA’s mission.

As a result of USA TODAY’s investigation of Schneider, VA officials determined his hiring — and potentially that of an unknown number of other doctors — was illegal.

Federal law bars the agency from hiring physicians whose license has been revoked by a state board, even if they still hold an active license in another state. Schneider still has a license in Montana, even though his Wyoming license was revoked.

VA spokesman Curt Cashour said agency officials provided hospital officials in Iowa City with “incorrect guidance” green-lighting Schneider’s hire. The VA moved to fire Schneider last Wednesday. He resigned instead.

Cashour also said the VA would look into whether other doctors had been improperly hired.

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SOURCE: USA Today, Donovan Slack