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VA Mistakenly Tells Vets They Have Fatal Illness 108

Posted by samzenpus
from the experiencing-technical-difficulty dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Thanks to a computer glitch and bad diagnosis coding, the VA sent a letter to thousands of veterans telling them they have Lou Gehrig's Disease. Some were right, but many were mistakes. From the article, 'Recently, the VA determined ALS to be a service-connected disability and generated automatic letters to all veterans whose records included the code for the disease. However, since the coding contained both ALS and undiagnosed neurological disorders, some of those letters were erroneous.'"

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VA Mistakenly Tells Vets They Have Fatal Illness

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  • next time, face to face is a good idea...
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Any jobs declined, life and health insurance policies refused and suicides.

    • by iluvcapra (782887) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @04:20AM (#29213443)

      health insurance policies refused

      If you're getting a letter from the VA you already have free liftetime health insurance, and in the US it's illegal to decline someone a job on account of their medical condition, insofar as it doesn't interfere with performance, which for someone who doesn't have a disease, it won't.

      I'm sure there's some sort of latent point in this about "socialized medicine" or something, but for every one of these letters with the wrong diagnosis, I assure you a private insurer has cancelled the policy on dozens of people for no goddamn reason [time.com]. And those people sometimes commit suicide too.

      There are many scary anecdotes about the VA, but they're just that, anecdotes. Customer satisfaction within the VA health system regularly outscores [va.gov] customer satisfaction in the private health insurance/care system.

      PS. If you get a letter saying you have an incurable disease, damn the letter. You must hear it from your doctor's own lips, and then only after you have had the outcome of the tests throughly explained to you.

      • by stoolpigeon (454276) * <bittercode@gmail> on Thursday August 27, 2009 @04:33AM (#29213519) Homepage Journal

        This is good info. but just to point out one thing- not everyone who is in the VA system necessarily has free lifetime care for everything. Many people receive care for lower levels of service connected disability. Many veterans use the VA and other health care systems - including public hospitals, private insurance, etc.

        • by iluvcapra (782887)

          This is true, and I'm happy to admit that one of the probable reasons people are so satisfied with the VA system is on account of the fact that it's FREEEEEEEE!!! Or rather, the risk of all is borne by all, and you can't be welched out of it in any good-faith circumstance.

          Of course, we could all have this arrangement, wether by national insurance or proper private health insurance regulation, if we voted for it.

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by stoolpigeon (454276) *

            Satisfaction surveys are not necessarily the best metric to use in determining quality of care. I think this has been shown in a few studies and many health care providers have tried to move to metrics that more accurately tell if care is actually good or not. I don't bring this up to enter into your argument about socialized medicine but just to try and look at the whole picture.

            More importantly, your point about it being free couldn't be more mistaken. For the vets it either cost becoming disab

            • by nateb (59324) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @05:37AM (#29213965)

              More importantly, your point about it being free couldn't be more mistaken. For the vets it either cost becoming disabled or a minimum of 20 years of full time service.

              This is incorrect. My father spent 4 years in, and due to his income, receives (nearly) free health care. He must requalify every year, fwiw.

              • I did not know that. I just hopped over to the VA eligibility page and it's wider than I had believed. Nice to know I may have benefits I didn't know about. I've got insurance through my employer, but who knows what tomorrow holds.

              • by Jurily (900488)

                He must requalify every year, fwiw.

                What the hell? Are they checking if he grew back his legs or something? Perhaps the timeline changed and now he hadn't gone to war?

                • No, he just needs to prove that he can't afford an alternative, that his continued VA treatment is need based.
                  • by Ironica (124657)

                    No, he just needs to prove that he can't afford an alternative, that his continued VA treatment is need based.

                    And with Medicaid, he'd need to requalify every six months, so that's pretty generous.

          • by EbeneezerSquid (1446685) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @08:08AM (#29214871)
            hahahahahaha!

            There are presently 3 "single payer" health care systems in the US: The VA, IHS (Indian Health Services), and Medicare.

            The VA has a long history of misdiagnosis and hospitals that don't meet the cleanliness standards most McDonalds must keep, the IHS itself admits that it doesn't have the money to do anything put extremely urgent care, barely (as opposed to the full and complete care it is obligated to provide by treaty), and Medicare pays regular health care providers about 65% of the costs of treatment, does so 9-24 months late, and is on schedule to devour the entire federal budget by 2019 (assuming it is not expanded by ObamaCare).

            As a Military Servicemember, and the son of a vet who just became eligible for medicare, I want LESS government in Healthcare, and am not surprised in the least by these letters. I'm actually more surprised that they were reported in the media, this time.

            • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

              by iamhigh (1252742)
              I was unaware that the VA diagnosed you? I thought doctors still had to do that?
              • by geekoid (135745)

                Oh know, the VA does. You sit in a room, 50 bureaucrats come into a room. Once they decide your not over 65 and they can't just put a bullet in your head, they steal your wallet and then then goose step out of the room to go kill Jews.

                Well, that's what some people seem to believe.

                I wish people would actually read the proposals and discussed specific issues within the proposal.

            • by geekoid (135745)

              This type of thing happens in private companies more often. They aren't under any pressure to lat anyone know and have PR to minimize the damage. Point in fact it's exactly why I will never work in the private medical industry again.

              The actually people that study medicare for a living. The actually experts aren't concerned about medicare and dont believe it will eat the federal budget. That's republican Neo Con propaganda. The same propaganda that said it would ahve devoured the budget 20 years ago. Every t

              • The actually experts aren't concerned about medicare and dont believe it will eat the federal budget. That's republican Neo Con propaganda. The same propaganda that said it would ahve devoured the budget 20 years ago. Every ten year, they say it will devour the budget in ten years.

                The numbers actually come from the GAO (Government Accountability Office), which I wouldn't consider a republican propaganda machine. It's likely they are being conservative (ala similar calculations concerning Social Security), but that doesn't negate the fact that the costs of the medical industry are spiraling out of control.

            • You forgot Tricare, which is either single payer or socialized depending on the location.

              • No, Tricare is a horrible HMO that constantly forgets to pay bills. Who runs it depends on which region you are in, I think it is Sectera in the southeastern US. I love the fact that they often decide not to pay for tests the doctor orders because they are "unnecessary" and we find out about it when the Collection agency contacts us 9 months later.

                But I shouldn't blame them. They are simply following the "guidlines" the politicians produced, to ensure "fairness".

            • by Ironica (124657)

              So, the VA can't afford cleaning staff, IHS can't afford doctors, and Medicare can't afford accounts payable staff?

              And somehow, this is going to be solved by spending LESS gov't money on healthcare?

            • There are presently 3 "single payer" health care systems in the US: The VA, IHS (Indian Health Services), and Medicare.

              Actually, there are precisely zero "single payer" health care systems in the US, since the existence of more than one payer in the same jurisdiction means you don't have a singly payer system, and there are, in the US, the three systems you mention, the joint federal/state Medicaid program, and thousands of ther payers, meaning that none of those payers is a "single payer" system.

            • by Atario (673917)

              How Veterans' Hospitals Became the Best in Health Care [time.com]

              I'll not go through the rest of your FUD point-by-point, but I'll just pick on this one:

              Medicare pays regular health care providers about 65% of the costs of treatment

              What do you think your private insurance does? Just pay whatever is asked? Does the phrase "negotiated rate" ring a bell?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by geekoid (135745)

        No, don't damn the letter. Immediately call your doctor. Regardless of public or private.

  • Not amusing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Max Romantschuk (132276) <max@romantschuk.fi> on Thursday August 27, 2009 @03:09AM (#29213095) Homepage

    ALS is basically a slow and unpleasant death sentence unless you are lucky and can afford proper care. You really don't want to be told you have something that will lock your working brain into your body until you suffocate without a breathing apparatus.

    I'm perfectly aware many people can live for ages with ALS, but a significant portion aren't as lucky...

    • Re:Not amusing (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mc6809e (214243) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @03:33AM (#29213229)

      ALS is basically a slow and unpleasant death sentence unless you are lucky and can afford proper care.

      It's still horrible, even if you're lucky. There are so many "better" fatal diseases I'd rather have.

      And unfortunately there really isn't a lot of public research being done to find a cure. A great deal of medical research is driven by politics and popularity, and ALS just doesn't get the attention it deserves. The cynic in me believes that the lack of research dollars is due to the short average expected lifespan after diagnosis -- those with ALS just aren't around long enough to make enough noise to get the attention needed to boost funding and research interest.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by stoolpigeon (454276) *

      I had a friend who was diagnosed and dead in less than a year. He went from excellent care to being unable to pick up his kids in a few months. It was one of the most horrible things I've seen a person go through. I think his wife and kids are doing pretty well now, it's been 8 years since he died, but I wouldn't wish that on anyone.

      • by i.r.id10t (595143)

        My dad died w/ ALS - not sure if that was the cause of death or not, he had a long history of high blood pressure and had a heart attack at age 71, which some could view as "normal".

        Apparently, there are 2 "flavors" of ALS - dead in a year, or you may have 2-40 years (like Hawking).

  • Even better (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 27, 2009 @04:04AM (#29213369)

    It'll be awesome when all of our health care is, by law, just as efficient and personal.

    • I doubt it, I mean there's really no comparison between our current health care system, and the government run health care in France, Germany, Canada, Briton, Australia, Cuba, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Panama, or Israel.

  • 1 How is it service related? exposure to........ 2 If someones file has the code they should already be diagnosed right.
    • Re:I smell a rat (Score:4, Informative)

      by stoolpigeon (454276) * <bittercode@gmail> on Thursday August 27, 2009 @04:16AM (#29213429) Homepage Journal

      People who serve in the military are twice as likely to get ALS as people with no military service. I don't think anyone knows why but apparently the government is agreeing that they should help out vets who contract it. ALSA [alsa.org] has a pdf with information about it - ALSA military paper [alsa.org].

      • by geekoid (135745)

        I didn't see a reference to either actual study, and the two studies discussed had seperate methods* and different focues. Drawning two studies to get to a conclusion that only 1 was looking for is weak.

        It also doesn't look at the possiblility that ALS is more common then thought, it's just the military personal get regular medical check-ups and treatment.

        I am NOT saying the studies are wrong, only that it's not very conclusive.
        I do want to say that I would like to see some more good studies done on that. P

        • by Ironica (124657)

          I do want to say that I would like to see some more good studies done on that. Particularly looking at the fact that there is an increase no matter which branch, job, or duration in the military. that's very odd and does smell of a flawed study.

          Or a feature of military service that doesn't have to do with how you serve... like the vaccination schedule or elements of the training process. Or heck, the food. Maybe some chemical they use in the living quarters.

          There's a lot of things that could explain such a difference. I agree we need more research to determine what they are.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Ironica (124657)

      2 If someones file has the code they should already be diagnosed right.

      We're still stuck using ICD9 coding. We were supposed to switch to ICD10 years ago, but it keeps getting delayed, mostly because of the arcane field of medical billing software. ICD9 is a half-assed system, based on decades-old knowledge of disease and injury, that you can't even be sure whether you'll find the disease you want under the part of the body it affects or its taxonomy.

      So it doesn't surprise me at all that the ICD9 code for ALS is ambiguous for other neurological diseases.

  • Awww (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dkf (304284) <donal.k.fellows@manchester.ac.uk> on Thursday August 27, 2009 @04:43AM (#29213583) Homepage

    There I was, looking for a story about veterinarians in Virginia...

  • VA Mistakenly Tells Vets They Have Fatal Illness

    "Vet" means a veterinary doctor, not a veteran. Stupid title.

    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      It depends on context, asshat. If it's an article about animals, you're absolutely right; if it's an article about people, you're dead fucking wrong. If you're an American, show some fucking respect; the wars these folks fought in may not have been 'right', but they did more than your lazy ass sitting in a chair in front of a computer.

      Side note: If we were in a draft era, I would have been 4-F'd off the bat, before you bring up that counter.
    • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Thursday August 27, 2009 @08:23AM (#29215029) Homepage Journal

      "Vet" means a veterinary doctor, not a veteran. Stupid title.

      Slashdot is an American website, and as such, Vet most certainly does mean Veteran sometimes. When? When it does.

      If you don't like the Americanisms, fine. But don't try to correct us. You can't even fucking spell Aluminum [wikipedia.org]. "for so we shall take the liberty of writing the word, in preference to aluminum, which has a less classical sound." That's right, you convinced the whole world to ignore the original name in favor of creative license! The English language is poisoned with the deliberate, poetickal misspellings of Chaucer and his contemporaries because when the dictionaries were Laid Down From On High by some pompous brits, the works were in fashion, and so every dictionary I open I have to see a bunch of made-up shit.

      Complaining about American English on an American website is stupid, and you are a stupid person for doing it. Go suck a calamansis lime.

      • In addition to the dude who pointed out how conclusive your fail was regarding aluminium, which IUPAC actually prefer (although they do allow the yanks to use their own misspelling), I thought I'd ad that the only reason "american english" exists in the form of such conclusive misspellings is that Webster was a massive fan of "logical spelling" and the new Congress encouraged use of his dictionary with it's new "american" spellings because they sought to remove influence of British schoolbooks from US schoo
    • by Ksevio (865461)
      Well if you know what VA stands for then you can probably figure out that it's not talking about veterinarians. They usually don't get diagnosed as one group either.
  • Bunker said that for many years, the VA applied a medical code to refer to undiagnosed neurological disorders. Several years ago, he said, VA expanded the code category to include amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly called Lou Gehrig's disease.

    Sounds like they hit the magic id '99999' to undiagnosed Time to upgrade to '999999'!

  • this and a private medical company?
    You find out about the error when a government agency does it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Ironica (124657)

      this and a private medical company?
      You find out about the error when a government agency does it.

      Not only that... the letter says "You've been diagnosed with X," whereas the letter from the private insurer says, "Your coverage has been terminated" without mention of the (erroneous) diagnosis.

  • by bigattichouse (527527) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @11:44AM (#29217775) Homepage

    As a family caretaker of a U.S. Veteran (Vietnam and Iraq Round 1) who passed away from ALS, while under the care of the VA - I have to say that they really busted their butts to make sure he had all the assistance and medical care possible. They even called intermittently with questions about his service history to attempt to find out WHY so many people in his situation developed ALS.

    I have to say, for all the problems people have had with the VA they took care of Jim. He had everything from his medications to a IPAP, oxygen, even a hospital bed delivered and set up here at the house.

    Given the extremely bizarre nature of the disease, and that no-one clearly understands its causes, they did a damn fine job of trying to figure out what was wrong and making sure he had ample medical care.

    • by Samrobb (12731)

      As someone involved with a private health care organization that has regular, extensive contact with the VA, and as someone who's dealt with INS on several different occasions for personal and work-related issues, I'll state the following for all the people arguing for/against public health care:

      The standard of service you get from government agencies can vary from horrible to outstanding, depending on the type of people involved in any particular organization. Our local INS office, for example, gets a *lo

  • Just wait until that number is "millions" under nationalized healthcare.

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