Texas VA hospital in hot water over statements to Congress

Texas VA hospital in hot water over statements to Congress

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A Texas VA Hospital claimed to a member of Congress that a patient was disruptive and on steroid treatment but the police and medical reports tell a different story.

WASHINGTON, Jan. 26, 2016 – The Veterans Administration has acknowledged that a regional manager in Central Texas provided false information to a member of Congress about a patient, CDN has learned.

The issue involves Frederick Sherman, an Air Force veteran who served from 1980-1985. Sherman said he first went to the Olin E. Teague Veterans’ Medical Center in Temple, Texas, in March 2015 seeking treatment for a torn rotator cuff.

He said after several months of bureaucratic delays, he finally saw a doctor on June 22, 2015. Sherman told CDN that during this meeting, he was pressured to take steroids to treat the torn rotator cuff. He says he was also told surgery couldn’t be scheduled until September.

Sherman said he refused the steroid treatment because he had been told it was ineffective. He then complained about the delay in scheduling surgery. When Sherman refused steroid treatment, the conversation with the physician turned hostile. Sherman said he felt threatened and  asked security to take him to the patient advocacy office to file a formal complaint.

Later, in June 2015, Sherman approached the office of Congressman John Carter, a Texas Republican, about the situation. Carter’s office then contacted the Central Texas VA.

But when the VA hospital formally replied to Carter’s office on Sept. 15, 2015, it made Sherman out to be the aggressor and claimed he had been treated with steroids for months.

“Ugly” email case to clarify “true threat,” test free speech

“Steroid injections to the shoulder are an appropriate treatment and are currently being given to Mr. Sherman at the orthopedic clinic,” the letter from Sally Houser-Hanfelder read. “Mr. Sherman stated that his orthopedic appointment was discontinued on June 22, 2015, and he was escorted off the premises by police.”

At the time of the letter Houser-Handler headed the Central Texas VA Region, which includes the hospital in Temple. Houser-Hanfelder has since moved on to head a region out of Denver.

Further on in the letter to Carter’s office, Houser-Hanfelder suggested that Sherman was disruptive, “Mr. Sherman was asked not to be disruptive and he agreed.”

But medical records and the police report of the incident paint an entirely different picture. According to a medical report, “(Sherman) states he still does not want to have any steroid injections.”.

The police report also contradicts information from the Central Texas VA. The police report states, “Escorted a patient (Fred Sherman) from the Prosthetics to Patient Advocacy at his request to file a complaint about his doctor. Patient was cooperative and calm during the escort.”

In an emailed statement, Kathryn Gifford, a communications specialist with the VA, admitted that the original letter to Congressman Carter’s office provided false information. “Central Texas Veterans Health Care System apologizes for any confusion regarding the facts conveyed to Congressman Carter’s office last year as they advocated for Mr. Sherman’s care.  We regret that a staff member made a mistake when reporting the facts of Mr. Sherman’s case. In September of last year when we sent a follow-up letter to the congressional office, the correct information was provided. Currently, we are working with Mr. Sherman to offer him care options at VA expense in the community.”

Gifford didn’t provide any follow-up letters, and Carry Schiermeyer, communications specialist for Carter’s office, did not respond to an email requesting comment.

Sherman said he was not aware of any follow-up letter to the one received on Sept. 15, 2015. He also expressed his dissatisfaction with the VA, saying, “I’m appalled that the VA stated that their following statement to Congressman Carter’s clarified incorrect statements made by staff members. Numerous steps were taken by myself to reveal the inaccuracies stated to members of the staff, including the Patient Advocacy office and Privacy Office, but my cries of injustice went unheeded. I was considered a trouble maker and flagged on the ‘disruptive patient’ list which today hinders my patient care through resistance fielding questions about my mental stability.”

He said he has routinely been told things like “please calm down” when he goes to the hospital.

According to statute, knowingly providing false information to Congress carries a penalty of up to five years in prison, but a source at the House Veteran Affairs Committee (HVAC) cautioned that such crimes are difficult to prove.

“It is hard to prove intent because you need concrete evidence that a person knew what they were saying was wrong and said it anyway. The procedure is to refer it to the Department of Justice.”

Sherman said that he has still not had surgery and has only recently received approval for outside referral.

He said he was finally approved for an outside referral for treatment less than a week after CDN first contacted the Central Texas VA for comment about the case in January 2016. Sherman said he first asked for an outside referral at the hospital on June 22 and was denied every time before CDN contacted the hospital.

Sherman told CDN that he has a job which involves physical activity and this is quite painful with his torn rotator cuff.


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