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How will a new law aimed at the VA help protect other patients?

In a rare show of bipartisanship, the U.S. Senate voted unanimously to pass the Department of Veterans Affairs Provider Accountability Act. The proposed law would prohibit the VA from "enter[ing] into a settlement agreement relating to an adverse action" that would "conceal a serious medical error or a lapse in generally-accepted standards of clinical practice." It would also require the department to report these disciplinary actions to state licensing boards as well as the National Practitioner Data Bank.

The bill's passage comes two years after the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that VA officials often delayed investigations into complaints about employees at its medical facilities -- or failed to investigate them at all. According to the GAO's report, these officials wouldn't report instances in which they disciplined a doctor or even revoked their privileges to the appropriate state and federal entities. Doctors could resign from a VA facility to avoid what's called an "adverse privileging action" and go on to practice at a non-VA hospital where they were placing other patients in danger.

In a hearing in the House of Representatives following the report, VA officials promised to make changes. One of the senators who sponsored this bill, West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin, said earlier this year, "VA has made attempts to correct this on their own, but I believe strict guidelines must be implemented to assure our veterans they are receiving the highest quality of care."

The senator behind the bill, Republican Cory Gardner of Colorado, acknowledged that the "vast majority of VA employees and medical providers provide exceptional care to our veterans and we are grateful for their service." However, he added that "there is no excuse for allowing certain medical providers with a history of committing major medical errors to continue putting other patients at risk."

The bill will now be considered in the House of Representatives. If it passes there, it will go to President Trump for his signature.

Even when patients and their families take the time and effort to research a potential new doctor, when disciplinary actions and even firings aren't reported, they may be basing their decisions on incomplete information. If you believe that you or a loved one was harmed by a doctor or other medical provider due to medical malpractice, find out whether you have grounds for a lawsuit to seek the justice and compensation you deserve.

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