The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is a federal agency that aims to provide military veterans with comprehensive healthcare services throughout the country. Robert Morris Levy, a former VA pathologist, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, after allegedly misdiagnosing 10 percent of all patient cases.
Drugs, Alcohol, and Arrest
Levy started working for the VA in 2005 and was fired in 2018 after being arrested for drunk driving. His arrest prompted a medical malpractice investigation which found that 3,000 of the 34,000 cases he handled had clinical errors with these errors dating back to when he started this job.
In 2016, Levy was found drinking on the job with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.396. His medical license was briefly suspended and he was forced to go through 3 months of rehab. To put the BAC of 0.396 into perspective, that is more than four times higher than the legal limit of 0.08. Kris Raper, a special agent with the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Veterans Affairs, testified that for a normal person, a BAC of 0.396 would have them comatose.
Levy returned to work at the end of 2016, less than a year from when he was first found drinking at work. When Levy returned to work he was required to give random blood and urine samples for testing. Levy later revealed that he was able to pass random blood and urine tests by using drugs that have intoxicating effects similar to alcohol but were undetectable on blood and urine tests. Levy had continued to work while under the influence which led to more misdiagnoses, case irregularities, and overall medical malpractice.
Medical malpractice is very serious. During the investigation in 2018, it was discovered that 30 of Levy’s misdiagnosed cases caused patients to have extreme and lasting issues. Three of the cases were so severe that those patients ended up dead. “When it comes to a medical malpractice case, there is no debate on who is liable. Doctors are responsible for their patients,” says Attorney Marc Karlin of Karlin & Karlin. “While doctors make mistakes, negligence that results in a misdiagnosis can have severe legal consequences”.
During the hearing, Levy told a federal judge that on more than one occasion he attempted to cover up a substance abuse problem. Federal prosecutors stated that in at least two cases Levy forged signatures and documents in an attempt to cover his mistakes. Not only did he misdiagnose patients but Levy also falsified medical records for his different patients by forging another doctor’s name to make it appear another pathologist agreed with his diagnosis.
A retired Air Force master sergeant, Kelly Copelin, came forward saying Levy misdiagnosed her with an earache when in reality she had cancer. Levy’s mistake caused her cancer to metastasize to stage 4 and resulted in her losing the ability to swallow after treatment. Levy also admitted to the misdiagnosis of an Air Force Veteran with cancer, this man was treated for the wrong condition and as a result, died. There are thousands of others who have similar stories and have been left with lasting issues or have died due to Levy’s negligence.
Levy faces up to 28 years in prison and $500,000 in fines and the estate of one of the veterans who died is suing Levy for $3 million. Levy is expected to be sentenced in the next few months.