Government To Pay Nearly $7 Million To Resolve Sexual Abuse Cases At Leavenworth VA
The federal government has agreed to pay nearly $7 million to settle eight cases stemming from the sexual abuse of veterans by a former physician assistant at the VA Hospital in Leavenworth, Kansas.
The settlement comes after three veterans took their cases to trial last year, resulting in hefty damage awards against the government.
“We just didn’t give up,” said attorney Danny Thomas, who represented the veterans. “The Department of Justice fought these cases tooth and nail for years. They treated these veterans like dirt. They accused them of lying, they attacked their character in court and in pleadings. And we just weren’t going to stand for it.”
The plaintiffs, all of them veterans of the Iraq or Afghanistan conflicts, alleged they were subjected to unnecessary genital exams and other physical abuse by Mark Wisner, who was a physician assistant at the Dwight D. Eisenhower VA Medical Center from 2008 to 2014.
Wisner is thought to have abused as many as 100 military veterans, which would make the episode the largest sexual abuse scandal in the history of the VA.
More than 80 veterans represented by other lawyers settled their lawsuits against the government for $6.7 million in 2019.
“We were able to do better than that just for our eight clients alone,” Thomas said.
Together with the latest settlement and the cases that went to trial, the government will have paid out nearly $17 million in claims over the scandal.
Holding the government responsible
Wisner was convicted of aggravated sexual battery and related charges in 2017 and sentenced to nearly 16 years in prison. He surrendered his license to the Kansas Board of Healing Arts in February 2015.
Terms of the new settlement call for the eight veterans to receive amounts ranging from $706,250 to $1,406,250, Thomas said.
In court documents, the veterans are referred to by the fictitious name John Doe since their cases involved sexual abuse.
A spokesman for the Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
As part of the settlement, the government will drop its appeals of the cases that went to trial, Thomas said.
Those cases were tried before U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree, who awarded one veteran $538,000, another veteran $1.5 million and the third veteran more than $1 million.
The awards, along with a change in Justice Department personnel under the Biden administration, appear to have spurred the government to resolve the remaining cases rather than risk the prospect of additional damage awards.
Thomas, who has been battling the government for more than four years, was highly critical of U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, whom he accused of “not lifting a finger” for the veterans.
He said Moran, ranking member of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, never asked for an investigation of what happened at the Leavenworth VA or inquired about the veterans’ well-being.
Asked to respond, Moran's office said that Moran had raised concerns about the allegations against Wisner with then-VA Secretary Robert McDonald in 2016 and later publicly questioned him about them.
His office also noted that he had introduced the Accountability to Safeguard Veterans from Violent Crimes Act of 2016 to reduce pensions earned by certain VA hospital employees convicted of violent crimes.
Although the government never disputed that Wisner sexually molested the veterans, it contended it was not liable for his conduct because it occurred outside the scope of Wisner's employment.
“This obviously wasn’t just about the money,” Thomas said. “It was about doing justice for these guys and making sure their voices were heard.”
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