by: Peter Daut Updated:
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Major mistakes at facilities designed to care for veterans who risked their lives for our country are costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
Channel 9 investigated and found the problem is getting worse.
Eyewitness News dug through the numbers and talked to veterans and lawmakers demanding action.
Former POW and retired Air-Force Colonel Quincy Collins does not mince words when it comes to medical care for veterans.
"If you do not take care of the people who fight our battles, we are going downhill," said Collins.
He is the founder of the Carolinas Freedom Foundation, which honors those who serve. Collins is concerned the Department of Veterans Affairs is becoming increase complacent.
"It seems to me that we need a lot of accountability," said Collins.
Eyewitness News broke down a massive database of all federal government payouts from lawsuits and settlements.
The feds either settled or lost more than 4,400 malpractice cases involving the VA nationwide over the last 10 years.
The cost to taxpayers was more than $844 million, and Eyewitness News found nearly 2-and-a-half million of that went to cases in the Carolinas just within the past year.
"I was angry for a long time," said veteran J.R. Howell.
Howell is adamant he, and every veteran, deserves better.
Paying the Price: VA's malpractice tab, $845M in 10 years
He nearly died, and spent years in pain recovering, after doctors at the Memphis VA sent him home without thorough examination or proper treatment for a colon infection.
A judge awarded him nearly $6 million.
"I tell you one thing. Anything, any monetary award, we'd much rather have our health than money," said Howell.
A heartbreaking home-video showed the battle former Marine Christopher Ellison is still fighting. He suffered a stroke after a VA dentist in Philadelphia kept going with a procedure, even though Ellison's blood pressure had dropped to dangerously low levels.
He won a $17 million judgment.
"It's not just harming the taxpayers, they're harming public health," said Daniel Epstein.
Epstein runs the watchdog group, Cause of Action, and is calling for an inspector general's audit.
VA malpractice costs spiked from roughly $70 million in 2011 to almost $100 million in 2012, the same year the number of individual payouts reached a five year high.
"I think this sounds like a management problem. This sounds like a systemic problem at the agency," he said.
No one from the VA would speak on camera, but the department issued a statement saying in part, "VA takes this issue very seriously and … personnel remain committed to maintaining a high level of quality care, transparency and accountability."
But House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller believes the department has little incentive to clamp down since the cash to cover all of those payouts comes straight from the U.S. Treasury rather than the VA's own budget,
"The VA likes to say that they're accountable; I don't believe the word even exists in the VA dictionary," said Rep. Jeff Miller (R) House Veterans Affairs Committee Chair.
He, like Quincy Collins, wants more accountability.
"We need to be vigilant to make sure this stops and this doesn't continue," said Collins.
See all the 9 Investigates stories from Eyewitness News by clicking here.
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