ALBUQUERQUE (AP) — A Rio Rancho man who served in the famed Tuskegee Airmen is blaming the VA hospital in Albuquerque for a botched eye operation.
A needle-like device called a cannula shot out of its syringe and into John Edward Allen's eye during cataract surgery about a year ago. The Albuquerque Journal reports the 83-year-old developed an eye infection that drops and steroid shots haven't cured. There's also permanent scarring and vision impairment.
Allen faces the possible loss of sight in his right eye and plans to sue the VA for negligence, according to his Albuquerque attorney, Raymond Hamilton.
The Department of Veterans Affairs contends the operation met the "standard of care," and that Allen signed a consent form acknowledging the risks involved.
"That's preposterous," said Hamilton. "There's no way this was within the standard of care."
VA hospital spokeswoman Sonja Brown told the Journal that her agency doesn't comment on specific patient cases.
Allen is awaiting his next eye appointment with a non-VA specialist to decide further treatment.
"They didn't offer Mr. Allen not $50, not $5, not a dime in compensation after what happened," said Hamilton, who retired from the U.S. Attorney's Office in New Mexico last year.
Allen was among the nearly 1,000 famed Tuskegee Airmen whose service in World War II helped spur desegregation of the U.S. Armed Forces. Drafted into the U.S. Army Air Forces in 1945 right out of high school in Live Oak, Fla., at age 17, he said he was among the "smart black boys" who tested well. "They didn't believe it, so they tested us again."
Assigned to the 332nd Fighter Wing, Allen joined other black young men who trained at the Tuskegee Army Air Field, in Tuskegee, Ala., from 1942 to 1946.
They included pilots, navigators, bombardiers, maintenance and support staff. Allen found his niche in bomb disposal and handling.
"Mr. Allen never saw combat, but he did see hate," Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said in a statement after Allen and about 300 original Tuskegee Airmen were awarded a Congressional Gold Medal in 2007.
He served 27 years in the U.S. military, including a stint loading munitions in Korea, and another 27 as a civilian employee in the defense complex before retiring in 2000.
Allen said he didn't see what happened on Dec. 14, 2011, when he underwent cataract surgery. It wasn't until the next day his surgeon told him about a "complication."
"Nobody said anything right after the surgery," he recalled. "But the doctor told me they had a mishap and shot a syringe through my eye."
His medical record says that a cannula irrigating the eye "shot off of the syringe at the very end of surgery and ruptured" a portion of his right eye, decentering the lens.
"They told me 'you accepted the risk of surgery,' but no, I trusted the doctor implicitly," Allen said.
In a recent interview, Allen reflected on his career in "bombs and bullets," including his work in explosive ordnance disposal. The weapons included Minuteman I and Peacekeeper intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Routine safety checks back then were vital to ensuring against deadly accidents.
"In ordnance, we have to go through everything," he said. "What about the safety checks (before the cataract surgery)? Something had to be off for that to shoot off into my eye."
No one even offered an apology, he said.