Crime

VA missed red flags on provider accused of sex abuse in Leavenworth, lawsuits allege

New lawsuits filed against former physician assistant Mark Wisner allege that patients at the Dwight D. Eisenhower VA Medical Center reported inappropriate conduct by Wisner to VA employees years before he was charged with sexual battery.
New lawsuits filed against former physician assistant Mark Wisner allege that patients at the Dwight D. Eisenhower VA Medical Center reported inappropriate conduct by Wisner to VA employees years before he was charged with sexual battery.

Sex abuse lawsuits against a physician assistant who worked at a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Leavenworth allege that the VA missed warning signs in the man’s background when they hired him and then let him keep working after multiple complaints about his behavior.

Mark Wisner, the former medical provider at the center of the lawsuits, is awaiting trial in Leavenworth County on criminal charges of sexual battery and aggravated sexual battery.

As of Wednesday there were 53 open lawsuits against Wisner and the government, many brought by patients who say he touched them and made inappropriate sexual comments to them. He’s accused of performing unnecessary genital exams, without gloves, that he presented as legitimate medical procedures.

The latest lawsuits, filed Tuesday, say that before he started working at the Dwight D. Eisenhower VA Medical Center in Leavenworth, Wisner was convicted of a sex crime in California in 1987 and that a nurse who worked with him reported Wisner’s “improper sexualized conduct with a patient” to the Kansas Board of Healing Arts in 1999.

After the VA hired him, the lawsuits say that patients reported Wisner’s “inappropriate” and “questionable” conduct to VA employees including a case manager and a patient’s advocate in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. He worked at the VA until he surrendered his medical license in February 2015 while under investigation by the Board of Healing Arts.

Dan Curry, a Kansas City lawyer representing many of the plaintiffs in the lawsuits, said he has yet to examine thousands of pages of VA documents that might show other complaints about Wisner’s behavior. What’s in the lawsuits now reflects only what he’s been told by plaintiffs.

“As we’re filing lawsuits and talking to folks we’re finding that, yeah you know, there was some direct reporting going on,” Curry said.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office, which represents the federal government in the lawsuits, has said it won’t comment while the lawsuits are pending.

The Wisner case spurred U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, a Republican from Kansas, to co-sponsor legislation that would make it easier for the VA to fire problem employees and protect whistleblowers who report them. The bill, called the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017, passed the Senate on Tuesday and is headed to the U.S. House of Representatives, which is considering similar legislation.

“The Veterans Accountability Act gives the VA secretary the tools he needs to remove those who fail to perform their duties,” Moran said in a statement released Wednesday by his office. “In Kansas, we’ve seen a disturbing case where a VA employee who abused veterans on the job was allowed to collect benefits after retiring from the VA. We must make sure that kind of injustice can never happen again.”

In an editorial that was published in the Hays Daily News last year, Moran called the Wisner case “one of the worst examples of how the VA has failed veterans” and said the agency “kept him on their payroll for more than a month after he admitted to preying on, assaulting and abusing vulnerable veterans.”

Andy Marso: 816-234-4055, @andymarso

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