Former Navy Pilot Sues US Government over Bipolar Diagnosis

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A former Navy pilot has filed a $35 million lawsuit against the federal government alleging that a Veterans Affairs doctor misdiagnosed him with a mental illness that caused him to lose his ability to fly commercial airplanes and be wrongly treated for the disorder for a decade.

William Royster, 53, of Kansas City, said in the lawsuit filed Friday that a doctor at the local VA medical center diagnosed him with bipolar disorder in April 2004 and said he could not work in any capacity. The doctor also said the condition was permanent, he contends.

After he had been treated and medicated for more than 10 years for the disorder, Royster said a different psychiatrist at the medical center told him last November that he was not bipolar.

"From the review of the records, he (Mr. Royster) never had any manic symptoms and he never met the criteria for the diagnosis of bipolar disorder. ... Thus in my professional opinion, I do not believe that Mr. Royster has a diagnosis of bipolar disorder," Dr. Shreeja Kumar wrote on Nov. 18.

Royster was flying a fighter jet on a training mission associated with Desert Storm on June 4, 1996, when he was shot down, the lawsuit says. He was injured when he ejected from the jet and honorably discharged from the Navy that November.

A Navy surgeon told him the injuries he sustained in the crash would not limit his ability to fly commercial airplanes, the lawsuit says.

After his discharge, Royster continued to be treated for his injuries at the Kansas City medical center. He also completed flight training and was hired by United Airlines to fly Boeing commercial planes in January 1998.

He held that position until the bipolar diagnosis in April 2004 grounded him.

Royster's attorney filed an administrative tort claim that the Department of Veterans Affairs denied in August, saying it found no negligent or wrongful acts on the part of VA employees.

Joe Burks, a spokesman for the Kansas City medical center, said he could not comment on pending litigation. A lawyer listed for Royster was not available for comment Monday.

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