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Vet sues VA, claims interns made medical decisions

“A psychology student intern evaluates me by herself,” he said. “An intern”.

For months, NewsChannel 5 on Your Side told you how VA hospitals were letting unqualified staff decide if veterans had brain damage.

The result? The VA is offering thousands of vets a second, proper examination.

Now, one local veteran is taking action in court.

In military lingo, Rick Radford was what they'd call "high speed, low drag".

He was a hard-charging, highly-trained, well-educated Army major who would eventually be awarded a bronze star. He documented his missions during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

But that was Rick Radford in 2009, not today.

“I'm just struggling because I'm not the same person I used to be,” he said from his St. Louis home.

It’s all because of one day in December 2009. A car bomb exploded nearby. In the frenzy, Radford hit his head on a machine gun hanging in his military vehicle.

“And, I just knocked myself out,” he said. “I woke up, I was bleeding.”

And now, Radford can't sleep, he has chronic headaches and memory loss.

“My brain just didn't click and things didn't make the connections,” he said.

They were problems that followed him home to St. Louis, where he finally turned to the local VA for help.

In an initial exam, the doctor noted he had symptoms consistent with traumatic brain injury.

But TBI is a condition that's difficult to diagnose. That's why Radford needed a second specialized exam that VA policy says only four types of highly-trained specialists — including psychiatrists and neurologists — can do.

But who gave Radford his TBI exam?

“A psychology student intern evaluates me by herself,” he said. “An intern”.

The intern concluded the decorated soldier wasn't physically injured.

It wouldn't be unheard of. In response to an investigation from our sister station in Minnesota, the VA admitted nearly 25,000 veterans were seen by unqualified personnel for TBI testing at facilities around the country, including nearly 300 veterans in St. Louis.

In the meantime, Radford decided to get an outside opinion.

“I have a specialty practice in traumatic brain injury care,” said Dr. David Brody.

Brody is a professor and neurologist with Washington University School of Medicine with no connection to the VA. He came to a very different conclusion about his patient.

When asked if there was any doubt Radford hat TBI, Brody said, "I'm as sure as I need to be. I mean, his history of traumatic brain injury and signs and symptoms and all the collateral sources information is as good as anybody that we have."

And so Radford struggles on.

“I want to be whole. I want to be where I was before,” he said.

He’s unable to work, fighting daily to regain some of his former self.

“I can hurt for myself, but to know that this has happened to other people, it's very disheartening,” he said.

Radford is suing the VA system alleging, among other things, medical negligence and malpractice.

The VA had no comment, citing the pending lawsuit and patient privacy.

Five on Your Side is committed to getting answers, so we'll stay on top of this story.

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