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Kentucky Family Claims Negligence By Local VA

The children of Louis Smith say lack of treatment at the Lexington VA destroyed their father's quality of life.

A table in Janette Smith’s living room was filled with medals, each lovingly placed on display and proudly shown to us by Janette and three of her five siblings.  Janette, her sisters Doris Helm and Betty Abell and brother Jodie Smith were all smiles as they recounted each honor that was given to their father Louis Smith.   Smith rarely shared stories about his time in battle, his children say he was too humble, but they’ll eagerly tell you how their “Daddy” won a Bronze Star for saving a fellow soldier during combat in World War II and they’ll describe the wounds he suffered in battle which earning him the Purple Heart. 

But as we sat and talked, the smiles and joy in remembering their father, turned to frustration, anger and tears over the way they say he was treated by the Lexington VA Hospital.  Betty Able says the problem began when Smith began having pain and difficulty urinating in January of 2011.  “They were going to set up a scan and scan his kidneys the end of February, which was almost seven and a half weeks later.  Daddy was in Jewish Hospital on life support in critical condition at that time.  That’s where Daddy was.” 

After finally getting Smith into the VA Hospital, the family says he was misdiagnosed with prostate cancer, denied a second opinion and treatment by a kidney specialist as promised and even mis-coded by hospital staff.  Janette Smith said “The other very disturbing incident that happened after Dad was admitted was the ‘Do not resuscitate’ band that was placed on his arm without his permission”

Able says after waiting days for care that never came, the siblings decided to move their father to Jewish Hospital.  To get an ambulance to transfer him for Lexington to Louisville took nearly a day and a half.  “It was 36-hours when we got Daddy out of there and they were going to release him.  They were going to discharge Daddy.  When we got to Louisville Daddy was bleeding internally and had to have blood transfusions and was in very critical condition.  We have letters stating from those doctors Daddy needed this hospitalization.  He did not need to be sent home.”  Smith’s son Jodie added that the VA also stopped treatment once a transfer out of the VA to Jewish Hospital was requested “It was like, you’re leaving here so now you’re on your own.” 

Doctors at Jewish Hospital determined Smith did not have cancer and was in full kidney failure and went into cardiac arrest.  He was revived but the damage was done.  Smith was on dialysis three times a week and died in less than a year later just one month shy of his 92nd birthday. 

“We feel like that last year of Dad’s life was taken away from him as a result of not seeing the specialist.  Again, it all comes back to he was admitted with a Doctor’s order to see a Nephrologists.”  Janette Smith said “They told us he would see one the following morning and we never saw one.  It all could have been prevented and his quality of care and his quality of life would have been so much better that last year.” Her brother Jodie believes that early and correct treatment not only could have prevented months of painful treatments, it would have saved taxpayer dollars “You talk about Government money and waste.  How much money would they have actually saved the Government by taking care of him when they should have rather than send him to dialysis three times a week for a year and have to pay all of those bills.”

“Someone needs to be held accountable for what they did.  They took our Dad. And it’s not about money.”  Abell said as tears welled in her eyes “They need to be held accountable.  They need to say we are sorry.  We took your Father.” 

When asked to comment on Smith’s care, the VA released this statement: “While we cannot comment on specific patient treatment or matters that might involve litigation, we take our mission of providing veterans with quality care very seriously."   Smith’s family has filed a federal tort claiming negligent care lead to his wrongful death.  It was denied and they are appealing.

Janette Smith says the family’s hope is that their father’s story, along with others that are coming to light across the country, can force change within the VA medical system.  “One Veteran being mistreated is one too many.  Our purpose is if we can affect some change, then maybe everything that Dad went through in that last year of his life as a result of his mistreatment will not have been in vain.  And maybe Dad will be a hero again for our current Veterans.”