Iowa veteran’s survivors sue over VA’s illegal hiring of troubled neurosurgeon

Iowa veteran’s survivors sue over VA’s illegal hiring of troubled neurosurgeon

The survivors of an Iowa veteran who died after brain surgery at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Iowa City are suing the VA for illegally hiring a surgeon with a history of malpractice allegations.

Army veteran Richard Hopkins, 65, of Davenport died in 2017 after developing a post-surgery infection. His family’s federal lawsuit, filed this month, blames neurosurgeon John Henry Schneider, who performed four brain operations on Hopkins.

Hopkins and other VA patients didn’t know that Schneider’s medical license had been revoked in Wyoming in 2014 over allegations of poor patient care. The Iowa City VA hospital hired Schneider in spring 2017 at an annual salary of $385,000 — despite a law saying doctors whose state licenses had been revoked could not work for the VA.

Schneider resigned in late 2017, after USA TODAY inquired about his status and the VA moved to fire him.

The new federal lawsuit, filed by Hopkins’ three daughters, blames his infection on “medical negligence,” and says at least three other Iowa City VA hospital patients suffered such complications.

Hopkins’ family said he developed the infection after his first surgery for a non-cancerous brain tumor. He died a few weeks later, after undergoing three more surgeries.

“Rick was strong, he was a bull,” his sister, Annette Rainsford, said in a 2017 interview with USA TODAY. “Why would you go into someone’s head four times?”

Schneider told USA TODAY that the infections suffered by his patients were complications that can occur in neurosurgery. He said Hopkins’ case was a “tragic” example, in which the patient developed two brain bleeds and then fluid buildup, each requiring another surgery.

“I’ve had a great run at the VA with zero issues,” Schneider said in the 2017 interview. “Have I had to take patients back (for surgery) for post-op infection? Yes. I mean, I can’t prevent every infection.”

Schneider maintained a Montana medical license after his Wyoming license was revoked. Generally, physicians may work at any VA hospital in the country as long as they have a medical license from any state. But under federal law, they are not supposed to be hired if they’ve had a license revoked.

Schneider disclosed his licensing history when he applied for the Iowa City job, but he was hired anyway. A USA TODAY investigation found several similar examples nationally. In response to the USA TODAY findings, the VA pledged to review its hiring practices to ensure they comply with the law.

Schneider was sentenced last year to spend two years in federal prison after pleading guilty to fraudulently hiding assets in a bankruptcy case in Montana. His bankruptcy filing came while he was facing medical malpractice judgments from earlier cases. Online records show his Montana medical license was revoked in 2018.

A spokesman for the Iowa City VA hospital declined to comment on the new lawsuit. 

2 Responses

  1. The army surgeon that performed am low back surgery on me stating that ONE disc surgery, recovery time and I would be back on my feet to continue to be able to work. After the first surgery, I had to have a “fusion” surgery which I have NEVER recovered for therefore landing me on opiate medication for pain management AFTER ALL alternative “treatments after surgery…..failed miserably.25 years ago, It was the LAST alternative after all other available procedures such as infusions, injections, PT, chiropractic, and a host O non opiate medications failed to relieve pain sufficient enough to allow me to continue with my business over 25 years ago, WITH the medication, persistence, and will power I managed to get my children through college however with the 2016 CDC “guideline” for opioid prescribing physicians FORCED my pain management doctor to tapering me to 80 percent less medication used for 23 years, I am a prisoner in my own home. Penniless, in constant pain, unable to sleep, function with ANY normalcy I feel abandoned but, it means nothing to the “experts” I have or had 23 years of documentation of success with opiate medication without any failure of drug screens, pill counts, misuse of medication, diversion, or in my humble opinion ZERO influence on the “opioid crisis but, it doesn’t matter to the “experts. GOD Bless the Hopkins family. NOTHING can “right” the failure he and his family have been exposed to and experienced but I do hope justice is served in some meaningful way.

  2. I have seen the difference, as an instrument tech responsible in part for the sterile field, between a surgeon that WILL infect you and one that probably will never infect you.

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