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VA Settles With Veteran Over Alleged Cocaine Misdiagnosis

The federal government has paid $150,000 as part of a settlement agreement to a patient for a claim of misdiagnosis, which involved a lab sample mix-up that resulted in doctors scolding a Navy veteran for taking cocaine and ordering him to leave the hospital.

Navy veteran Eric Walker began experiencing severe abdominal pains in 2015. He visited the William Jennings Bryan Dorn VA Medical Center in Columbia, South Carolina for treatment. After performing some tests, doctors came in and told Mr. Walker to “stop taking cocaine” and to leave the hospital. Mr. Walker objected, telling the VA staff that he does not use controlled substances. He was told that doctors “hear that all the time” and that his urinalysis results told a different story.

Mr. Walker, who stated that his abdominal pain was at about a “12 on a scale of 1 to 10” had no choice but to leave the medical center. After being sent home, his abdominal pain increased and he was taken to Lexington Medical Center, where he was diagnosed with gallstones and a diseased gallbladder and pancreas and scheduled for surgery. Tests conducted at Lexington Medical Center revealed no cocaine in his system.

After recovering from surgery, Mr. Walker pursued a medical malpractice claim against the Dorn VA hospital, claiming that his urinalysis was mixed up with a sample from another patient, resulting in his misdiagnosis and the refusal to treat his very real physical symptoms. 

Mr. Walker had numerous previous VA treatments and had never tested positive for any drugs, and did not test positive for any controlled substances at Lexington Medical Center, where he finally received an accurate diagnosis and treatment. Despite these facts, the Dorn VA Hospital denied that any mix-up in lab results could have occurred and maintained that the Navy veteran accurately tested positive for cocaine. Mr. Walker’s attorney stated that he and his client were pursuing the case in order to garner public attention and help other veterans avoid the kind of suffering Mr. Walker endured because of what they believe was a medical error. Mr. Walker’s attorney is also a veteran who flew Apache helicopters in combat in Iraq in 2011 and continues to serve in the South Carolina Army National Guard.

While the VA maintained the test results were accurate, the federal government still agreed to settle with Mr. Walker for $150,000. “There is no evidence this veteran’s lab results were handled improperly. The VA settled this case to avoid further litigation,” a VA statement said. “I didn’t expect any money out of this,” said Mr. Walker. “It was mainly about what can we do to make the VA better. What can we do to keep this from happening again?”

About the Author

Briggs Bedigian
Briggs Bedigian

H. Briggs Bedigian (“Briggs”) is a founding partner of Gilman & Bedigian, LLC.  Prior to forming Gilman & Bedigian, LLC, Briggs was a partner at Wais, Vogelstein and Bedigian, LLC, where he was the head of the firm’s litigation practice.  Briggs’ legal practice is focused on representing clients involved in medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. 


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