- The Washington Times - Friday, September 12, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Veterans Affairs Secretary James B. Peake’s letter attempts to attribute the problems we experienced at the James J. Peters VA Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y., to my perceptions rather than reality (“VA chief offers family apology,” Nation, Aug. 26). Audrey Hudson’s investigative reporting cuts through the facade of damage control and exposes how this bureaucracy’s administrators operate to avoid accountability. Until the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) acknowledges that this is an ethics problem, it will never be corrected.

Indisputable, but dodged by the secretary, is that my husband, Joe Fitzgerald, walkedinto the facility on May 15 and was admitted with a symptom of “confusion.” Before diagnostic tests and a diagnosis were even completed, his attending physician, Dr. Ruth Walker, targeted him for a research study.

After we refused to have Joe participate, he was discharged on May 18 with a “regular discharge”; “diagnosis of confusion and stable”; “physical activity: ad lib., fall precaution,” and he left the building in a wheelchair. He was dying right before our eyes without our knowing it and was discharged without a diagnosis, prognosis and a plan of care.

When we met with Dr. Walker on May 23, before Joe’s outpatient lumbar tap, we learned the extent of her clinical experience with the five or six conditions they were thinking of. I asked that if she could not diagnose my husband, would she give us a referral? She responded: “I will tell you who to see when I feel the time is right.” My husband was sent home to wait for test results that never came.

We are only learning now - through the media - that MaryAnn Musumeci, director of the medical center, claims they knew Joe was suffering from a rapidly debilitating disease, and that he was in need of hospice care. The bitter truth is that we had to leave the VA system to get a diagnosis, prognosis, competent care and treatment on our own, without any guidance or help from the J.J. Peters “center of excellence.”

Until the VA protects veterans, its facilities will never be “centers of excellence.” All contacts to recruit human research subjects should be recorded in the electronic records. No veteran should be without a personal advocate when approached to sign up for a research study. This will help to prevent abuses and exploitation, especially involving vulnerable veterans.

I believe veterans come to the hospital for health care - not research. If the VA health-care-system “mandate” to recruit veterans as human research subjects is to continue, then it must change the name to call the system what it is: VA Research Laboratories.

AIMEE J. FITZGERALD

Central Valley, N.Y.

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