VA sued after vet died while waiting for heart surgery

An Air Force veteran died while waiting for care at a Veteran Affairs medical facility in Washington state, a new lawsuit claims.

George Walker, 75, of Tacoma, died in 2016 while on a surgical wait list for a new heart valve at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System, according to his widow’s lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Tacoma.

“They never told us how serious it was,” Peggy Walker told the Tacoma News Tribune, referring to the VA health-care system. “If we didn’t think we were going to get the right care there, we would have gone somewhere else. He was just a happy man who didn’t know.”

Her lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount in damages.

The VA Puget Sound issued a statement, saying that while it “does not typically comment on pending litigation, VA Puget Sound’s wait times at both our Seattle and Tacoma locations are better, on average, than local non-VA hospitals as we are continually striving to improve our service and efficiency,” the paper reported.

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That statement also said that it “mourns the loss of every veteran.”

Walker’s obituary said he joined the Air Force and served for eight years in Korea and Vietnam. After his death, his wife learned he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal in 1967.

In June, 2016, after complaining of shortness of breath, he went to a VA Puget Sound clinic and then to a hospital, where he was diagnosed with aortic stenosis, a hereditary narrowing of his aortic valve, the paper reported.

He was discharged from the hospital after being put on a wait list to get a new one.

He learned June 24 that his surgery would be July 5, the paper reported.

He died July 1 at home.

“They absolutely shouldn’t have sent him home,” Peggy Walker’s attorney, Jessica Holman Duthie, told the paper.

Congress faulted the VA for lengthy wait times in 2014 after it was reported that records at the VA facility in Phoenix had been altered to hide the fact that patients had to wait an exorbitant number of days to see a doctor.

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