Veterans Affairs Reviews Prosthetics Lab After Complaints
After a blood clot forced the amputation of his left leg in 2012, retired Navy Cmdr. Robert Haas was counting on the prosthetics lab at Columbus Chalmers P. Wylie VA Ambulatory Center to help him regain his mobility.
Sadly, he says, his trust was misplaced.
Despite multiple attempts, the prosthetist assigned to care for Haas at the East Side facility proved unable to fit the 30-year veteran with an artificial leg that would enable him to walk or even stand without excruciating pain.
Haas months-long ordeal coupled with similar accounts from more than a dozen other central Ohio amputees triggered a review by the Department of Veterans Affairs inspector general. The findings have yet to be released.
It also brought to light a VA hiring practice that potentially exposes patients to unlicensed prosthetists who would be barred from working in civilian health care at least in Ohio, which imposed minimum training requirements more than a decade ago.
Among those alarmed by the situation is U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Upper Arlington, a colonel in the Ohio Army National Guard.
It is troubling to me to know that federal law doesnt protect our veterans at the same level that the civilian population is protected, Stivers said.
Haas, a 61-year-old Clintonville resident, said he should have realized something was amiss at his very first appointment with Wylie prosthetist Patrick Beatty.
I couldnt fit my stump into the mold, Haas recalled. He kept saying: Push, push, push. Its supposed to hurt.??
Over several months, Beatty attempted to fit Haas with four different artificial legs with the same results each time.
He couldnt make me any leg that would work.
Frustrated, Haas turned to a prosthetics manufacturer not affiliated with the VA.
After a single 90-minute fitting at the companys clinic in Mount Sterling, Ohio, Haas was equipped on the spot with an artificial leg that he said worked perfectly from the get-go.
Haas said his long-simmering anger with the VA boiled over when he learned through an amputee support group that at least 17 other central Ohio veterans had turned to the same company after encountering problems at Wylies prosthetics lab.
There are a bunch of other veterans who have been so intimidated by the system that they are afraid to speak up because their sole dependence is on the VA system, he said.
Haas, whose Navy career included a stint as a fraud investigator, did speak up.
In 2013, he presented his concerns to Keith Sullivan, who had just been appointed director at Wylie. Sullivan, in turn, requested the review by the VAs Office of Inspector General.
That review, conducted by the offices Cleveland unit, has been completed, Sullivan said, but the final report is pending.
If they were found out to be true, Sullivan said of Haas complaints, Id both be embarrassed that this organization would do that and Id feel bad for the veteran that the level of service did not meet the standard of expectation.
Regardless of the investigations outcome, Haas experience also brought attention to a little-known VA policy that Stivers says almost certainly opens the door to substandard care.
While looking into Haas plight, WBNS-TV (Channel 10) discovered that, unlike their private-sector counterparts across Ohio, prosthetists employed by the VA dont have to possess any special credentials or meet any minimum training standards.
Certification is not required as a basic requirement for this occupation, the agency notes in its employment handbook. However, it is strongly desirable as evidence of possession of the essential knowledge, skills and abilities.
The station found that, as of January, just one of the four people employed in Wylies prosthetics lab had obtained the professional certification that someone would need to work with amputees at a non-VA hospital in Ohio.
Beatty quit his job at Wylie earlier this month. Attempts to interview him were unsuccessful.
Stivers, who has spent
29 years in the Ohio Army National Guard, including a yearlong deployment to Iraq, said he had no idea that veterans like Haas have been receiving care from individuals who, under state law, couldnt get similar a job elsewhere.
This is something Im going to see if we can try to fix.
Haas, who is now able to run short distances with his artificial leg, said he and others in the amputee support group are working with Sullivan to upgrade patient care at Wylies prosthetics lab.
He has already seen some improvement, he said.
His hope, he said, is that no one will ever again have to limp out of the Columbus VA system the prosthetics department with a badly fit leg.
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