Veterans’ private medical records sent to Tennessee veterinarian

“I am a veterinarian, not a veteran.”
WSMV4 Investigative Reporter Stacey Cameron reports.
Published: Sep. 14, 2023 at 5:05 PM CDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - As a doctor, with nearly three decades of experience, Paula Schuerer receives and reviews a lot of patient records.

But a batch of medical records faxed to her office over the past year has caused Dr. Schuerer a great deal of anxiety.

“These are things that I should not be privileged to,” said Dr. Schuerer. “And I feel very responsible for them, and I don’t want that responsibility.”

Dr. Schuerer getting sent these records is a problem, because the patients whose information was shared with her are all military veterans living in Texas, and Dr. Schuerer is a veterinarian who runs an animal hospital in Franklin, Tennessee.

Veterans’ private medical records continuously sent to Tennessee veterinarian
Veterans’ private medical records continuously sent to Tennessee veterinarian(WSMV)

“Like I said I treat pets, not vets,” Dr. Scheuer said. “I am a veterinarian, not a veteran.”

According to Dr. Schuerer, the first fax came from the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Houston in August of 2022, and it contained 36 pages of medical records for a veteran seeking treatment at a rehab center in Southeast Texas.

Believing the fax was a simple mistake, and not wanting it to happen again, Dr. Schuerer says she had her receptionist reach out to the V.A. in Houston to let them know.

“Hey just call them and tell them they’ve got the wrong number. Let them know we are a veterinarian clinic,” Dr. Schuerer says she told her receptionist.

But that call did not stop the faxes from coming according to Dr. Schuerer, because over the next 12 months, the Houston V.A. sent her animal hospital the medical records of 31 more veterans, each one of them suffering from mental health issues or substance abuse.

“You have everything from the soldier’s name to the medications that they’re on,” Dr. Schuerer said. “Everything is exposed.”

Veterans’ private medical records continuously sent to Tennessee veterinarian
Veterans’ private medical records continuously sent to Tennessee veterinarian(WSMV)

And every time another fax came in, Dr. Schuerer says her receptionist called the DeBakey V.A. Medical Center in Houston, trying to alert them, but got nothing but excuses.

“She’s reported to me she’s called so many times, she’s blue in the face,” said Dr. Schuerer. “I find it disrespectful. She’s been told we’ll take care of that, or we’ll remove your number, and she’s even been told that there’s nothing we can do. We’re getting a lot of conflicting stories, so that’s why I reached out to you.”

After speaking with Dr. Schuerer, WSMV4 Investigates contacted the Houston V.A., and a spokesperson for the veterans’ hospital told us they were unaware that medical records were being faxed to an animal hospital.

The spokesperson also told WSMV4 Investigates she had a hard time believing that the problem would have continued if someone at the DeBakey V.A. Center had been warned about the problem.

When we asked if someone at the V.A. in Houston would go on camera and discuss the situation, the spokesperson said they needed to investigate the matter first and get more information.

Instead of calling back and setting up an interview, she emailed WSMV4 Investigates a statement a day later, that reads:

“VA takes the privacy of the Veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors that we serve extremely seriously, and we do everything in our power to protect it. In this case, faxes that were intended for a community care provider in the Houston area were inadvertently sent to the wrong fax number. As soon as we were informed of this error, we quickly corrected it and took steps to ensure it does not happen again. We sincerely regret this error and offer our deepest apologies to the approximately 30 Veterans whose information was inadvertently shared. VA staff is reaching out to the impacted individuals with additional information.”

However, that written statement failed to address how the V.A. corrected the problem and what caused it to happen in the first place.

Veterans’ private medical records continuously sent to Tennessee veterinarian
Veterans’ private medical records continuously sent to Tennessee veterinarian(WSMV)

So, WSMV4 Investigates reached out to the House Veterans Affairs Committee in Washington D.C., which oversees the V.A. hospital system, to inform them about what happened. We also emailed the committee copies of four sets of medical records faxed to Dr. Schuerer’s office.

A staffer tells WSMV4 Investigates that the information is now in the hands of several House members who serve on that committee, and it is under review.

Meanwhile, Dr. Schuerer is glad to hear that veterans’ medical records should stop getting faxed to her office, but she says she is still bothered by how long it took the V.A. in Houston to fix it and worries what could happen if someone else gets faxed these kinds of records in the future.

“The concern that I have is if there’s a nefarious person out there, they could utilize this private information in a very unfortunate way,” said Dr. Schuerer. “And I just don’t think that’s the right way to treat our vets.”