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Do not repeat a fatal mistake with vulnerable veterans, state lawmakers told

by Doug Thompson | June 9, 2021 at 7:26 a.m.
NWA Democrat-Gazette/J.T. WAMPLER Veterans Healthcare of the Ozarks July 2018.

Legislators need to oversee the state's care of vulnerable veterans because the lack of supervision at the federal level led to deaths at a Fayetteville hospital, lawmakers heard Tuesday.

A June 2 report on a pathologist who went to work drunk at the Veterans Health Care Center of the Ozarks found no proper procedures for overseeing his work. The report came from the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The state has no role in overseeing care at federal facilities but should take warning from the Fayetteville case and closely oversee operations at two state-run nursing homes for veterans, attorney Alan Lane of Fayetteville told a joint meeting of the Senate State Agencies Committee and the House committee on Aging, Children and Youth, Legislative and Military Affairs on Tuesday. Lane's firm represents eight families whose loved ones were misdiagnosed by the pathologist.

Those eight include the family of Judith Velosky, who also testified at Tuesday's hearing. Veterans Affairs pathologist Robert Morris Levy, 54, received a 20-year federal prison sentence in January for involuntary manslaughter in the 2014 death of Velosky's father, John Ray Gibbs, 61, of Gravette.

Velosky knew Levy missed her father's diagnosis, but the inspector general's findings still came as a shock, she told lawmakers. Levy was in control of the processes for overseeing his own work, the study found.

Anyone who knew about Levy's intoxication on the job couldn't have reported it to the Arkansas Medical Board for action because Levy was certified by the Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure, Lane told lawmakers. Anyone wanting to report the conduct of a doctor practicing in Arkansas with an out-of-state certification would have to know what state to make the report to, he said.

The Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs runs the two veterans homes in the state, one in Fayetteville with 90 beds and one in North Little Rock with 96 beds. Lane doesn't question the dedication or qualifications of the department, he told lawmakers, but the need for independent review of care for veterans is obvious after the Levy case.

The families Lane represents have a federal tort claim against the federal Veterans Affairs Department, he said.


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