Danny Thomas and Michael Kilgore believe how a nation treats its heroes is important. Unfortunately, for those caught up in what NPR decried as the “largest sex-abuse scandal in the history” of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, that treatment was abysmal, they said.
“These were combat veterans who saw intense combat in Iraq and came home with a lot of battle scars physically and emotionally,” said Thomas, who with Kilgore won hefty judgments against the federal government for men who were abused by a physician assistant at the Leavenworth VA Medical Center in Kansas.
“They were kind of thrown to the wolves by the VA in every sense of the expression.”
To make matters worse, the two attorneys said their clients initially were offered only small settlements by the government.
“In the broader context, when we consider holding medical providers, as well as their employers, responsible in the face of a failure to supervise, these verdicts are important,” said Kilgore, a native of Springfield. “They establish and affirm legal principles that are important for protecting patients in the context of medical care.”
The duo’s work in representing eight victims has netted more than $3 million in total awards for three of them, with litigation pending for the rest.
Thomas said he and Kilgore, both of whom are graduates of the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, have handled a number of sex-abuse and medical malpractice cases, but this one was especially wide-ranging.
“It was completely out of control, and it was all done right under the VA’s noses,” he said. “It is just indicative of the kind of health care that these veterans were getting.”
For Thomas, who went to law school after a stint in the U.S. Marines, the case had an additional dimension. Having been in the military himself, the Kansas City native wanted to help those who’d been mistreated by the nation they’d sworn to serve.
“I definitely felt a higher obligation to my fellow veterans to make sure that we were able to obtain justice for them,” he said.
The case was important to Kilgore as well.
“When you are representing folks that have been harmed, I think that all of your cases take on a significance and importance in terms of representing your client,” said Kilgore, who previously handled sex-abuse cases as an assistant prosecutor in Jackson County.
“We’ve been involved in cases involving catastrophic injuries and loss of life that are always compelling to the folks that are involved and the folks that are affected,” he said. “They are all important.”
Thomas, who was a military policeman in the Marines, said he didn’t even know what the LSAT was until a friend suggested he take it. Now, he’s glad he did.
“I clerked at a plaintiff’s firm in law school, and I knew right away that I wanted to represent victims and people who needed someone to speak up for them,” he said.
Both attorneys lamented the lack of follow-up by the government regarding the VA scandal, saying they believe more attention should have been directed to rooting out problems related to caring for wounded warriors who have given so much.
“They have to provide a level of attention that prevents a health care provider from having the opportunity to abuse patients like this,” Kilgore said. “That’s the broader hope.”