McGuire VA hospital broke the law when it continued canine research, report finds

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond broke the law when it continued its deadly dog research, according to a new report Tuesday from the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General.

The report, which is entitled “The Veterans Health Administration Did Not Get Secretary’s Approval Before Using Canines for Medical Research,” found eight dog studies, including five at McGuire, “that were not in compliance with the law for an average of 206 days.” It cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In December of 2018, members of Congress asked Inspector General Michael Missal to conduct the investigation. The inspector general found the VA continued and even began new canine research in 2018 without obtaining the required approval from the VA Secretary.

In 2017, 8News’ reports put the deadly dog testing at the VA in the public eye. With questions concerning animal welfare, Congress then restricted funds for the research unless it had direct approval by the VA Secretary. You may recall, 8News found the VA continued to conduct research using canines after the passage of the funding restrictions.

The VA stated that Dr. David Shulkin, the secretary of veterans affairs at the time, had approved the continuation of the studies before his March 28, 2018, departure. However, Shulkin told 8News he had never signed off on the continued canine testing, including the five dog experiments 8News found to still be underway at McGuire.

The report found this noncompliance with federal law resulted in “researchers at four VA medical facilities conducting studies on 51 canines and the combined unauthorized use of appropriated funds totaling $393,606.”

Responding to the report, Representative Ted Lieu of California says “I am alarmed that the VA’s Inspector General has found multiple instances where the VA didn’t meet our stipulations on canine testing. Unauthorized use of appropriated funds is unacceptable, and we will work to ensure VA complies with our goal of protecting our animal friends.”

Rep. Vern Buchanan of Florida was also disturbed by the findings.

“The IG report is extremely troubling because it confirms the worst, that the VA has not followed congressional intent to limit unnecessary and inhuman experiments on dogs,” Buchanan said.

The inspector general’s office has recommended the VA establish a formal process for obtaining and documenting approvals. It also recommends some procedures be put in place to make sure funds are not spent until there is secretary approval.

McGuire shared the following statement regarding the inspector general’s report on Tuesday:

This research would not have continued during Secretary Shulkin’s tenure without his support. And under Secretary Wilkie, VA has strengthened the documentation process for this important and life-saving research.

VA has supported this type of research for decades and continues to do so because it is absolutely necessary to better treat life-threatening health conditions in our Veterans.  

A recent National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) study affirmed that dogs are “scientifically necessary” for certain areas of research, including all of the work currently being done with dogs at VA to improve the care of Veterans.

VA canine research continues to be recognized for its important contributions to Veteran health. In January, the Journal of the American College of Cardiology singled out work at the Richmond VA and described it as having “wider implications for the development of a novel treatment approach“ for heart disease.

And Canine research in Cleveland involving VA researchers recently led to the development of a device that allows paralyzed patients to breathe without a ventilator, cough on their own and communicate with a stronger voice, leading to increased independence and significantly reducing respiratory infections and deaths.

McGuire VA Medical Center

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