Veterans Affairs officials will have to provide basic legal advice to veterans who file medical malpractice claims and provide information on local staffing issues as part of new legislation signed into law this week.
The provisions, dubbed the Brian Tally VA Employment Transparency Act, were included in a massive veterans policy omnibus which passed without objection in both the House and Senate last month. President Donald Trump gave his final approval of the measure on Tuesday.
Tally, a veteran injured in a medical malpractice case five years ago, has pushed for the reforms in response to his own legal battles with VA officials. On Tuesday, he said he was exhausted by the years-long lobbying effort but satisfied that the work may help other veterans.
“What happened to my family and I and the countless others before us is downright frightening, unconstitutional and criminal,” he said. “I knew something needed to be done.”
Tally, 43, previously served as a sergeant in the Marine Corps and visited the Loma Linda Veterans Affairs Medical Center in California in 2015 after a bout of extreme back pain. Doctors diagnosed him with a back sprain and sent him home with painkillers, without any blood tests or further examinations.
After weeks without any relief — or additional help from VA doctors — Tally visited a private-sector doctor (at his own expense), where new tests showed a bone-eating staph infection causing severe spinal damage.
At the time, Tally was an active father of four and owner of his own landscaping business. Today, he is unable to walk without significant pain. His bladder is mostly non-functional. He said he spent “most of my time living in a chair” and has struggled with depression.
“My life changed in ways I could have never seen coming or ever imagined,” he said.
Tally’s family filed a claim against VA for malpractice, saying that doctors should have ordered more tests after his continued pain. But after more than a year of working with department officials on the claim, they were notified that the primary doctor involved in the case was an independent contractor, not a VA staffer.
That meant he had missed state deadlines for filing proper legal claims for his injuries. Officials did not give any reason why providing that critical information took so long.
The new legislation mandates that the department provide “notice of the importance of securing legal counsel” and clearly identify the employment status of any individuals involved in the case within a month of a veteran submitting a malpractice claim. VA officials had opposed the idea, saying it creates unnecessary burden on staff.
The new rules are not retroactive, so Tally will not directly benefit. But he said he still feels the end result is satisfying.
“This is what my family and I have longed for to effectively close out this egregious five-year chapter, turn the page and move on with our lives,” he said. “This will never happen again and ruin the lives of other veterans and their families.”
The full bill — named for former Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson and former House committee Chairman Phil Roe — also includes numerous new protections for women veterans, student veterans and veterans left with financial challenges related to the ongoing pandemic.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.