Crime

Combat veteran speaks out on alleged sexual abuse at VA hospital in Leavenworth

Joshua Hutchison, seen here flying a mission in Afghanistan, is one of several veterans to file a lawsuit alleging sexual exploitation and abuse by a physician assistant at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Leavenworth.
Joshua Hutchison, seen here flying a mission in Afghanistan, is one of several veterans to file a lawsuit alleging sexual exploitation and abuse by a physician assistant at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Leavenworth. Courtesy of Joshua Hutchison

Joshua Hutchison served his country well in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

But when he came home and sought help for the physical and psychological damage that combat left him suffering, he says his country let him down.

Like dozens of other combat veterans, he became a patient of Mark E. Wisner, a physician assistant at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Leavenworth.

And like many of those men, he was subjected to alleged sexual exploitation and abuse at the hands of Wisner, according to a growing number of lawsuits filed in recent months.

“We put our trust in him, and obviously our trust was misplaced,” Hutchison said Thursday.

His lawsuit, filed this week in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, is at least the fifth filed this spring, saying VA officials were negligent in their employment and supervision of Wisner, who has since surrendered his license to practice.

Wisner is also facing criminal prosecution in Leavenworth County District Court.

In a statement, the VA said officials could not comment on the pending legal cases but said, “We take very seriously the safety and well-being of every single veteran patient.”

According to the latest lawsuit, Hutchison began seeing Wisner in 2010 and sometimes saw him four or five times a week.

During physical examinations, Wisner would not wear gloves while “massaging” his genitals, sometimes saying he was checking for “discoloration,” according to the lawsuit.

During some exams, Wisner would say things like, “Things are looking good down there,” and he would ask questions about his sex life.

The other lawsuits make similar allegations.

Hutchison said Thursday he felt Wisner’s actions were “creepy,” but when he raised concerns with others at the VA, he said he was told not to worry, that Wisner would be retiring soon.

According to the VA, when officials were made aware of possible inappropriate behavior by Wisner, they removed him from patient care and began an investigation.

“Before the investigation was complete, Mr. Wisner left the VA and also surrendered his medical license to the Kansas Board of Healing Arts,” according to the written statement from the VA. “Following the full investigation, criminal charges were officially filed against former employee, Mr. Wisner.”

The facility also sent letters to all of Wisner’s former patients that included a hot-line number they could call.

“This process was established to ensure open communication with veteran patients and their family members, to answer their questions, and to offer clinical and administrative support and resources from our VA Medical Center,” according to the statement.

Hutchison got one of those letters in late 2014, according to his lawsuit. He thought it was “odd” but did not understand it and did not respond.

Early last year, Wisner contacted the Kansas Board of Healing Arts and surrendered his license to practice as a physician assistant. The board found that Wisner had used his position to “commit sexual battery crimes against veteran patients,” and that he performed unnecessary genital exams that served “no legitimate medical purpose.”

On Thursday, Hutchison said he has talked to about 20 other veterans who were alleged victims of Wisner. Many are embarrassed about what happened, and some who have filed suit have done so as “John Doe.”

But Hutchison said he is speaking out publicly to encourage other veterans to come forward and seek help. Many like him were already suffering the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder from combat and are now dealing with their experiences with Wisner.

“They were supposed to be getting care, and instead they have to deal with new trauma,” he said. “It’s pretty rough.”

Tony Rizzo: 816-234-4435, @trizzkc

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