Eighty-two veterans who were sexually abused by a former physician assistant at the VA hospital in Leavenworth have settled their lawsuits against the government for nearly $7 million.
The physician assistant, Mark Wisner, was convicted in 2017 of aggravated sexual battery and aggravated criminal sodomy and sentenced to 15 years and seven months in prison.
At his jury trial, four former patients at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center testified that Wisner had groped and molested them while giving them physical exams.
Dozens of lawsuits filed by his victims alleged the U.S. government, which operates the VA hospital, knew or should have known that Wisner was a danger to patients, had a history of providing improper medical care and had previously victimized patients.
One of those lawsuits said Wisner had been convicted of a sex-related crime in 1987 and had been reported for sexually inappropriate conduct by a Kansas nurse in 1999. It also said he was the subject of complaints by VA patients in 2011, 2012 and 2014.
The crimes of which Wisner was convicted occurred at the VA between 2012 and 2014.
Although he did not testify at his criminal trial, jurors heard a recording of Wisner telling investigators in 2015, “I don’t feel good about what happened to these patients.”
Wisner told the investigators he had no control over himself and didn’t have “any business in medicine, period.”
Dan Curry, a Kansas City lawyer who represented the veterans, said the $6.97 million settlement has been apportioned among the 82 plaintiffs. A former Jackson County judge, Jay Daugherty, determined how much each veteran received.
“What happened at the VA Medical Center should have never occurred, and Mark Wisner should not have been permitted to continue working,” Curry said. “Multiple times, the VA administration at that hospital had reports that Wisner was behaving inappropriately. One of his earliest victims committed suicide not long after the VA police interviewed him about Mark Wisner. This was years before Wisner physically assaulted more than 90 veterans. Someone needed to connect the dots.”
Curry is asking the Joint Commission, the accrediting body for hospitals, to reopen its investigation into how the Leavenworth facility handled Wisner.
“I don’t believe the hospital administrators provided the Joint Commission all of the facts,” Curry said.
The 82 cases were actually settled months ago, but Curry said the final disbursements of the money occurred only recently. He said the settlement was announced now because the settled cases will now be dismissed and he wants people to understand why they are being dismissed.
The settlement does not mark the end of the litigation against the government. Other veterans, represented by different lawyers, have also filed suit. Unless those cases are also settled, they are scheduled to go to trial next year.
Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.