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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, January 15, 2019 9:30 pm

Class action suit alleges negligence at VA hospital

Jim Chapman | The Journal Gazette

Thirteen people have filed a class action lawsuit in federal court, alleging they received negligent care from a doctor at the Veterans Administration Northern Indiana Health Care System in Fort Wayne and Marion.

The complaint, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Fort Wayne, lists the United States of America as the defendant. The suit states "employees or agents of the federal government" knew of negligent podiatric care and treatment provided by Dr. Bradley R. Hammersley between 2009 and 2016 and "concealed the same from each of the plaintiffs and other similarly situated veterans."

In early 2018, according to the complaint, each plaintiff was called to a meeting with Fort Wayne VA officials, including the "succeeding podiatrist."

"During their respective meetings, each plaintiff was informed that he or she was the victim of medical malpractice at the hands of Dr. Hammersley," the complaint states.

Plaintiffs were provided information detailing the medical care and treatment and specific acts of medical malpractice by Hammersley. Each plaintiff was also advised of the claims process and given disability claims application forms, the complaint said.

After filing forms, "each plaintiff received a letter from the VA denying his claim as being time barred because the claim had not been presented within two years of the alleged negligent treatment by Dr. Hammersley," the complaint states.

Each plaintiff will be filing individual medical malpractice actions in connection with the medical care they received from Hammersley, the complaint said.

The 13 plaintiffs, all veterans, according to the lawsuit, are seeking an unspecified amount in damages, including costs and attorneys fees.

In an email Tuesday night, Tom Blackburn, public affairs officer at VA Northern Indiana Healthcare System, said, “VA always strives to provide veterans with the very best health care possible. When we don't meet that standard, we work quickly to identify problems, fix them and hold those responsible accountable.”

In this case, he said, VA Northern Indiana Health Care System completed an internal review in 2017 of all surgical podiatry cases performed by Hammersley after VANIHCS staff raised concerns.

“The review determined that a small percentage of Dr. Hammersley's patients received substandard care,” Blackburn said. “VANIHCS leaders have contacted all affected veterans to apologize personally, offer additional medical care and inform them of their options moving forward.”

Following the review of Hammersley's surgical podiatry cases, the VA terminated his employment in May 2017 and reported him to the Indiana Board of Podiatry, Blackburn said. Hammersley started working in 2006 as a VA fee-based provider and a full time VA employee in September 2014, Blackburn said.

“Any veteran may file a claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act regarding issues of substandard care,” Blackburn said “Under the FTCA, we look to state law for statute of limitations purposes. In any case filed, the Indiana statute of limitations would be applied, and is calculated based upon when the veteran/claimant knew or should have known of his or her potential claim.”

The plaintiffs who filed the complaint are Vincent J. Colombini of Berne; Billy McGuire of Kendallville; Martin L. Heifner of Grover Hill, Ohio; Robert J. Swisher of Uniondale; Derrick S. Link of New Haven; John D. Gross of Fort Wayne; Deborah K. (Fortier) Rogers of Kokomo; Michael A. Garman of Fort Wayne; Jerry W. Kittle of Huntertown; Carisa A. Snyder of Fort Wayne; Deborah K. Smith of Columbia City; Ephraim N. Shields of Fort Wayne;  and Marshall Phillips Jr. of Fort Wayne.

jchapman@jg.net