WASHINGTON (CNN) - The Veterans Affairs Department has apologized following an incident where a scalpel was allegedly left inside the body of a veteran for years following surgery.
VA Secretary David Shulkin said Wednesday that the department is working to address the claim and prevent future mistakes.
"It's an event that should never happen, and I am deeply sorry that any veteran should have to undergo this," Shulkin said, adding that the incident was "inadvertent on the surgeon's part."
Shulkin also said that surgical materials are left inside patients far less frequently in the VA's hospitals than in non-VA institutions.
"While this is an extremely rare event -- it happens in the country 1,500 times a year, in the VA, it does happen, it happened 12 times in the VA --- that's a rate in the VA much less than what happens outside the VA," he said, adding, "That's no excuse, this should never happen."
Shulkin was responding to questions from Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, about the lawsuit at a Senate Veteran's Affairs Committee hearing, calling the allegation a "truly egregious act of malpractice."
In a lawsuit filed earlier this month in Connecticut district court, Glenford Taylor alleged that a scalpel used during a 2013 surgery at a VA hospital in Connecticut was left in his body accidentally. The scalpel was discovered in March 2017, according to the lawsuit, when Taylor complained of dizziness and went for an MRI.
That MRI had to be stopped while in progress, the lawsuit states, because Taylor suffered "severe abdominal pain."
"Imaging performed that date revealed an abandoned surgical instrument in plaintiff's body," the lawsuit states. It was removed in a separate surgery in April 2017.
Turner's lawsuit accuses the US Department of Veterans Affairs of negligence and seeks compensatory damages.