Testimony Begins in VA Colonoscopy Case

Miami man claims he contracted Hepatitis at VA hospital during procedure

By Ari Odzer and Brian Hamacher
|  Monday, Jul 11, 2011  |  Updated 7:30 PM EDT
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Dirty Colonoscopy Trial Starts

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Dirty Colonoscopy Trial Starts

A military vet claims the VA hospital in Miami gave him Hepatitis C.
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Government attorneys said Monday it was highly unlikely a once-active senior citizen who now suffers from Hepatitis C contracted disease from a procedure at the Miami Veteran Affair's hospital.

Robert Metzler, 69, claims he contracted the disease after undergoing a colonoscopy at the Miami VA Healthcare Center in 2007. The trial for his lawsuit began in federal court today. 

It's the first of what is expected to be many lawsuits against VA hospitals to go to trial over allegedly dirty colonoscopies.

The lawsuit claims that as a result of the negligence of the VA staff and health care providers, Metzler contracted Hepatitis C because the equipment was not properly cleaned, sterilized or sanitized.

“They don’t want to take responsibility and accountability for what they clearly did wrong," Metzler's attorney Ervin Gonzalez said. "They want to say, 'You can’t prove that we caused it.' I think that’s just wrong."

In March 2009, the VA sent letters to over 3,000 veterans who had colonoscopies at the Miami VA hospital, informing them that improperly cleaned equipment might have exposed them to Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV. Similar problems arose at VA hospitals in Tennessee and Georgia with more than 11,000 veterans potentially exposed to the unsanitary equipment.

After Metzler received his letter, he was tested and was found to have Hepatitis C, though he had tested negative for the disease in 2006. 

Government attorneys said there was a "very slim chance" Metzler got the disease at the Miami hospital.

Though hundreds of cases related to the VA hospitals have been filed, Metzler's is the first to go to trial. Several cases have been settled out of court.

Records show that among the patients at the three hospitals who have heeded VA warnings to get follow-up blood checks, eight have tested positive for HIV. Twelve former patients have tested positive for Hepatitis B and 37 have tested positive for Hepatitis C.

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