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A Tacoma veteran died waiting for heart surgery. The VA agreed to settle the lawsuit

The federal government has agreed to settle a lawsuit that said a Tacoma veteran died while waiting for heart surgery at a Department of Veterans Affairs medical center.

Peggy Walker’s lawsuit said that her husband, 75-year-old George Walker, died July 1, 2016.

That was days before he was scheduled for surgery at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System, the lawsuit said, and about a week after doctors knew he needed the operation.

Walker’s attorney, Jessica Holman Duthie, said the settlement will be for $500,000.

A VA spokesperson said providing a comment by The News Tribune’s deadline was not possible.

A notice of settlement attorneys filed with the court May 20 said: “The parties are currently working on the written settlement agreement, and after that is finalized, intend to seek dismissal of the case once payment is implemented.”

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, gave this account of what happened:

Walker called the VA’s American Lake Division June 20, 2016 and said he had shortness of breath and chest pain. They told him to go to the American Lake Urgent Care, and the next day he did. Staff there had him taken by ambulance to the VA’s Seattle Division, and he was diagnosed with aortic stenosis. That’s a hereditary narrowing of the aortic valve, which meant he needed a new one.

The VA sent him home, and his surgery was scheduled for July 5.

July 1, he died at home.

“They should have never treated him,” Holman Duthie said Thursday. “The day that he walked in the door they should have sent him to another local institution that does heart surgery every day.”

The Seattle VA Hospital, she said, was only doing cardiac surgeries one or two days a week.

Walker’s wife said he served in the Air Force from 1959 to 1967, including about five years stationed at what now is Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

He didn’t talk about honors, but she found paperwork after his death that showed he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal in 1967.

He also worked for almost 30 years as the foreman of a forklift shop in Seattle.

Alexis Krell covers local, state and federal court cases that affect Pierce County. She started covering courts in 2016. Before that she wrote about crime and breaking news for almost four years as The News Tribune’s night reporter.
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