A system Congress established to speed help to Americans harmed by vaccines has instead heaped additional suffering on thousands of families, The Associated Press has found.

The premise was simple: quickly and generously pay for medical care in the rare cases when a shot to prevent a sickness such as flu or measles instead is the likely cause of serious health complications. But the system is not working as intended.

The AP read hundreds of decisions, conducted more than 100 interviews, and analyzed a database of more than 14,500 cases filed in a special vaccine court. That database was current as of January 2013; the government has refused to release an updated version since.

Among the findings:

—Private attorneys have been paid tens of millions of taxpayer dollars even as they clog the court with more cases than they can handle, some of which the court rejected as totally inadequate. The court offers a financial incentive to over-file — unlike typical civil court cases, attorneys are paid whether or not they win, as was the case with more than 5,000 losing claims that vaccines caused the developmental disability autism. Those who double-bill for their time or consistently submit questionable expenses are not disciplined.

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