Phoenix VA Gets Sued Following Wrong Diagnosis Which Led to Suicide

The infamous Phoenix VA hospital is in hot water again, after a filed lawsuit claims that a completely mistaken diagnosis of terminal cancer led one patient to take his own life.

On October 5, 2012, a physician told 67-year-old Gene Spencer, an audiologist, Army veteran, and contractor who constructed 3,500 buildings in Arizona, that because the cancer had spread to his lungs, he should head home and prepare for the end. The doctor told him he had no more than a few weeks.

A few days later and full of excruciating pain, Spencer killed himself with a gun. Shirley Fobke, Spencer’s wife, then proceeded to notify the VA hospital that he was deceased. Then, just a day after her call, the hospital rang her up, saying that the diagnosis was actually mistaken, The Arizona Republic reports.

The fluid surrounding Spencer’s lungs was not actually cancer.

Fobke asked for $2.5 million dollars in a claim letter, which the VA denied.

An April 30 lawsuit alleging wrongful death states that “as a result of the misdiagnosis Shirley Fobke suffered and will continue to suffer emotional and economic injury, lost wages, lost opportunity for financial gain, future earning capacity, loss of consortium, loss of love and affection.”

Spencer was first diagnosed with colon cancer in 2010 and would often land in the emergency room of the Phoenix VA hospital because, despite Fobke’s best efforts to schedule Spencer an appointment, no time slots were available. In an op-ed last week, interim medical director Glen Grippen argued that the situation in Phoenix is at least improving. According to VA data, he pointed out, 94 percent of veterans receive an appointment within 30 days.

Yet, Phoenix continues to be embroiled in scandal and controversy. Up to this point, not a single person has been fired at the Carl T. Hayden VA medical center in connection with manipulated wait times. Instead, Sharon Helman, former director of the center, is suing the government to get her position back. Helman was not removed for her connection to wait times, but rather because she failed to report gifts she received(RELATED: Former Phoenix VA Director Is Suing The Government For Her Job Back)

According to legal experts, suits based on wrongful death claims where the person committed suicide are not usually successful, but the angle here could be that suicide was a predictable outcome of negligence, given Spencer’s mental health. To that effect, the lawsuit argues, “He was not going to die. … that made it impossible for Gene to resist the impulse to end his own life.”