VA Secretary Robert Wilkie recently doubled down on his department’s dog experiments despite pressure from President Trump and Congress to shut it down. In a statement to the press, Wilkie says he will approve future requests for dog experiments.
In the past year, VA has done a 360 on dog experiments. Former Secretary Shulkin first lauded the experiments citing decades-old medical advances like the pacemaker as the basis to continue the program. After substantial pressure from activists including White Coat Waste Project Shulkin reverses. However, since his departure, VA is full steam ahead on dog experiments.
Language in President’s Trump’s March spending bill was aimed at restricting the program. Congress likewise has pending legislation to shut down the program in part because the agency’s experiments are benefiting private industry rather than focusing only on resolving medical questions for veterans.
“Having sustained catastrophic injuries on the battlefield, which included the loss of both my legs, I am acutely aware of the vital role dogs play in helping troops recover from war’s physical and psychological tolls,” said Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.), an Army veteran and co-sponsor of the legislation.
“The VA has not executed what we wanted as intent, which is to bring this to an end in its entirety, so we will keep up the pressure.”
The legislative measure signed by President Trump put serious restrictions on VA’s ability to use canines and cut funding for the program. It further required the Secretary to only approve canine studies if the goal of the study could only be reached with the use of dogs, which was not required previously.
Despite the funding restrictions, VA placed orders for more dogs from June 2018 until well into FY 2019.
USA Today Reporting
USA Today recently reported dog experiments are ongoing at VA facilities in Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Richmond. At Cleveland, VA personnel sever dogs’ spinal cords to test cough reflexes.
According to their report:
The VA, with the backing of other veterans and medical groups, pushed back against the mounting criticism, with then-secretary David Shulkin, a physician, calling the research critical “because of the distinct physical and biological characteristics humans and dogs share that other species do not.”
Which VA secretary approved the ongoing testing, however, is a point of contention. Before Trump fired him in March, Shulkin told an interviewer he was “not a strong believer” in the testing, and last week he tweeted that he “remain[s] opposed toward any new dog research”.
But an agency spokesman said Friday that Shulkin had verbally approved the continuation of the research the day he was fired.
Regardless of who signed off on the research, Wilkie made clear Friday that his support remained firm. He said the agency uses 92 dogs in experiments, adding: “Every day, 2,000 dogs are euthanized in this country.”
Justin Goodman, vice president of advocacy and public policy for White Coat Waste, said it was “disconcerting that Secretary Wilkie was brought in to clean up the VA, and yet he is doubling down on a program that has continued to fail veterans, taxpayers and dogs.”
White Coat Waste
I have done work with Goodman from White Coat Waste in the past. He is a great guy with a really interesting business model to reduce government waste. Last year, a few of us including my friend Rory Riley wrote quite a bit about waste related to VA’s dog abuse and experimentation program. Shulkin pulled back, at least at the time.
My part came to publishing research into the foreign-owned interests profiting off the medical research being conducted by VA. It undermined the agency’s position.
There is no question a financial motive belies the agency’s persistence in running the studies at the facilities noted above. Regardless of the benefit to veterans, why should VA continue hiring veterinarians rather than hire more doctors to treat veterans?
For the private companies profiting on the research, is this the best use of taxpayer money?
Richmond VA Spin On Dog Testing
I came across the following statement from the Richmond VA website addressing its dog research program, and thought the curious spin was worth highlighting:
Those who focus only on the shortcomings, make unfounded allegations, and present distortions as facts, wrongly compromise the faith of American citizens and lawmakers in the integrity of the VA system to do this vital work, interfere with the efforts of the many responsible research personnel who are dedicated to improving health care, and do a disservice to our Veterans and other human and animal patients worldwide.