(WRIC) — Veteran Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie’s decision to rejects calls to end canine research at the Department of Veterans Affairs is drawing a backlash.
“The previous management authorized it. I will reauthorize it,” said Wilkie at a National Press Club event in Washington, DC.
The VA Secretary says the VA only has 92 dogs involved in the deadly studies while thousands of dogs are euthanized in the U.S. every day.
“My charge is to make life better for those who have borne the battle,” says Wilkie.
He told the crowd the dog testing can lead to medical breakthroughs and is responsible for 1960’s invention of the cardiac pacemaker.
“I love canines, I was raised with them. But we have an opportunity to change the lives of men and woman who have been terribly hurt,” says Wilkie.
Lawmakers and groups who spent the last year fighting to end the experiments are outraged.
Just eight months ago, Congress voted to restrict the taxpayer-funded research.
“This is completely out of step with the direction that Congress, veterans and taxpayers and the President would expect this issue to be going in,” says Justin Goodman Vice President of Advocacy and Public Policy at White Coat Waste Project.
The watchdog group calls the canine testing cruel and unnecessary.
In 2017, 8News exposed the studies into cardiovascular disease at McGuire VA Hospital in Richmond involve puppies surgically implanted with pacemakers and run treadmills until they collapse.
All of the dogs are euthanized.
“These experiments are opposed by the former Secretary, who’s a physician,” Goodman told 8News. “Some of the nation’s leading veteran’s groups and the majority of veterans. And really, it is disgraceful that the new secretary Robert Wilkie would double down on such a wasteful program.”
The measure approved by Congress earlier this year allows the research to continue if given direct approval by the VA secretary.
Goodman says his group will now concentrate on passing the Puppers Act, a bill that would put a full stop to the studies.
So far, the measure has 100 co-sponsors.
One of those sponsors-is Florida Representative Vern Buchanan who served in the air national guard.
In a statement to 8News, the Congressman says:
“The VA has become a canine house of horrors. Congress needs to pass legislation to permanently ban these gruesome experiments, which include severing a dog’s spine to test cough reflex.”
Buchanan is referring to an experiment at the VA in Cleveland.