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TN VA hospital must pay $2.5M to parents in son’s wrongful death lawsuit

Veterans Health Nashville (Veterans Health/Flickr)
October 25, 2018

Two years after filing suit, a Nashville jury awarded parents of an Army vet $2.5 million in a wrongful death settlement.

Carol and Steven Merritt’s 26-year-old son Aaron died in Oct. 2014 at the Department of Veterans Affairs medical center in Nashville from a curable condition, the Tennessean reported.

Aaron’s parents filed a lawsuit against the hospital for negligence after VA doctors ignored an adverse reaction to a medication they prescribed.

Aaron was honorably discharged nine months before his death and was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis around that same time.

VA doctors were aware that Aaron had a pre-existing condition that suppressed his immune system when they prescribed him the medication Azathioprine.

The medication is an anti-inflammatory drug known to decrease white blood cell and platelet counts, so doctors ordered additional monitoring of his blood counts, but the orders were ignored.

Over a six-month period, only one blood test was conducted.

Aaron became seriously ill and landed in the hospital, where he died.

Carol Merritt said, “No amount of money will ever replace Aaron. We struggled through a lot of bureaucracy. A part of our lives and the grieving process were put on hold. But we didn’t want Aaron to be forgotten and we knew what happened to him wasn’t right.”

The quality of the VA healthcare system has been scrutinized in recent months, with Nashville and Murfreesboro topping the list of worst VA hospitals in the country.

Aaron’s parents employed a gastroenterologist to evaluate the case and he found that per the standard of care, doctors should have ordered 11 blood counts while Aaron was taking the medication but failed and only requested one.

However, doctors did increase Aaron’s dose by half just months before his death and without a blood test.

The gastroenterologist reported, “This is a tragic case involving numerous, continuing, and seemingly systemic failures of care by the clinical gastroenterologists at the Nashville VA. There were multiple deviations from the standard of care each time Aaron was seen.”

Court documents revealed that Aaron was very concerned for his own health and after he developed a fever, ulcers in his mouth, and was unable to consume food or water, he wrote to his VA primary care physician.

The letter he wrote asked, “I was wondering if this was something I should be seen for or if I could get new medication to treat this or improve my quality of life?”

Repeatedly he was told not to worry.

The cause of death listed on Aaron’s death certificate is refractory acidosis (an increase of acid production in the body), septic shock, a deficiency in all blood components and immunosuppression for ulcerative colitis.

“Aaron protected our country and our freedom but who protected Aaron?” his mother asked.

Aaron served in the military for eight years, serving three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.