Sunday, October 13, 2013

Congress and Veterans


Dona: Last Wednesday, the House Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing with regards to the shutdown and Thursday the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health held a hearing.  The first hearing was reported on by C.I. in Wednesday's  "Iraq snapshot," the Subcommittee hearing was reported on in C.I.'s Friday "Iraq snapshot,"  Thursday "Iraq snapshot," Ava's  "The VA killed Heather McDonald's husband (Ava)," Wally's  "VA bullied doctors into prescribing narcotics," and Kat's "The fake apology from Dr. Jesse"  I'll go ahead and note the four were supposed to attend the October 9th Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing and I blocked out the time for that -- I do the weekly schedule for them -- but that hearing was cancelled at the last minute.   They haven't held a real hearing since July.  I don't count field hearings as real ones or the annual VSO presentation as a real hearing, sorry.  The federal government may have shut down on October 1st but you could argue the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee did on August 1st.  FYI, this is a rush transcript.  You were all at Wednesday's hearing.  Only C.I. reported on it.  Kat didn't even mention it in her post that night.  Some e-mails came in asking about that.  Wednesday had already been planned as a theme post night. Kat, what stood out to you about Wednesday's House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing?

Kat: Two things.  I'll grab one.  The president of the United States publicly lied. September 30th, he declared in a televised broadcast to the nation, "Veterans who’ve sacrificed for their country will find their support centers unstaffed."  That was a lie.  Refer to C.I.'s report.   But a president goes on TV and tries to scare people with a lie and the media doesn't cover that?

Dona: The media doesn't cover a great deal.  Ava, you noted that in your report on Thursday's Subcomittee hearing.

Ava: Right.  After the snapshot went up, I was looking for a way to write about the hearing.  I knew Wally was grabbing the second panel and Kat the third.  I didn't want to just repeat what C.I. had already reported -- she did a great job reporting on widows Heather McDonald and Kimberly Stowe Green testifying about how the VA and its overmedication.  So I'm looking at the MSM reporting and everyone -- including Nextgov -- is writing some mythical tale.  Two widows went and testified about their husband's death and the VA was happy and encouraged the women to continue to speak out.  It was a happy ending imposed by the press but it didn't reflect reality.  And, until Wally reported on the VA doctors being ordered to overmedicate, it was as if that didn't happen either.  The reports were such garbage.  After we did our reporting, the next day, MSM reporting got stronger. 

Dona: Right and, in the hearing itself, the reporters' reactions?

Ava:  They were clearly uncomfortable.  It was if emotion frightened them -- it didn't puzzle them like it might a Vulcan on Star Trek, it just made them uncomfortable.

Dona: Then let's note some of that because the answer is not to ignore reality.  Ricky Green's widow is Kimberly Stowe Green.  Here's some of her testimony:

My husband Ricky Green died as a result of the VA's skyrocketing use of prescription pain killers.   On behalf of my husband, my self and our two grieving sons, I want to ask this Committee to do all that it can to prevent other veterans from dying in the same manner that my husband died. My husband died on October 29, 2011 -- at the age of forty-three -- four days after lower back surgery.  The Arkansas State Crime Lab and it's medical examiner performed an autopsy and determined that the cause of death was mixed drug intoxification complicating recent lumbar spine surgery.  My husband died because of the prescription pain and sleeping medications that the VA and its doctors prescribed for him and dispensed to him out of the VA pharmacy.  In treating Ricky's service-connected back pain, the VA doctors wrote prescriptions for the following drugs.

Dona (Con't): And this is Scott McDonald's widow Heather McDonald:

For 15 years, he served honorably in the uniform of his country and was proud to serve as a UH-60 Blackhawk mechanic and Crew Chief for MEDEVAC Unit.  Bosnia, Panama, Iraq and Afghanistan are only a few of the war-torn countries he dedicated his life to changing.  In his career, he experienced heartache, unimaginable violence, death and the overall devastating effects of war.  He saw many of his fellow soldiers give the ultimate sacrifice -- narrowly escaping many times himself.  He loved his country and what the American flag stands for.  He was a brothers in arms to thousands of fellow soldiers and a truly remarkable man that never met a stranger.  Scott had larger than life expectations for his children.  And because of his commitment and honor, in January of 2011, we married.  On April 30, 2011, Scott's career with the army came full circle and he hung his uniform up for good. He began seeking the treatment from the VA for back pain and mental illness.  The Chalmers P. Wylie VA Ambulatory Care Center in Columbus, Ohio immediately started prescribing medications beginning with ibuprofen, nurofen, meloxicam and graduating to vicodin, klonopin, celexa, Zoloft, valium and Percocet.  This is where the rollercoaster began.  My husband was taking up to 15 pills a day within the first six months of treatment.  Every time Scott came home from an appointment, he had different medications, different dosages, different directions on how to take them.  And progressively over the course of a year and a half of starting his treatment, the medications had changed so many times by adding and changing that Scott became changing.  We researched many of the drugs that he was prescribed online and saw the dangerous interactions that they cause.  Yet my husband was conditioned to follow orders.  And he did so.  On September 12th of 2012, Scott attended another of his scheduled appointments.  This was when they added Percocet.  This was a much different medication than he was used to taking and which they prescribed him not to exceed 3,000 milligrams of ibu -- acetaminophen, I'm sorry.  Again, my husband followed orders.  Approximately zero-one-hundred hours on the 13th of September, I arrived home from my job.  I found Scott disoriented and very lethargic.  I woke him and asked him if he was okay?  He told me he was fine and that he just took what the doctors told him to take. At approximately zero-seven-thirty, I found my husband cold and unresponsive.  At 35-years-old, this father of two was gone.  I ask  myself why everyday.  And when I ask the VA why more tests weren't performed to make sure he was healthy enough, they responded by saying: "It is not routine to evaluate our soldiers' pain medication distribution."  A simple "I am in pain" constitutes a narcotic and a "This isn't working" constitutes a change in medication.  I was sickened and disturbed by their response and I decided at that point no one else should die.  I have no doubt that if the proper tests were being performed on our men and women, I would not be here today -- because my husband would be.  I have no doubt that for thousands of the soldiers that have fallen after coming home from war would be here today.  [Wiping tears] I'm sorry.  As the silent soldiers and spouses of our military members. we almost expect the possibility that they won't come home from war.  But we cannot accept that they fight there for their country and after the battle is over they come home and die.

Dona: On that testimony alone, I believe, the press should have demanded Eric Shinseki's resignation as VA Secretary and President Barack Obama should have announced a shake up at the VA and given the American people his promise that he would ensure these issues were immediately addressed.   The second panel, Wally?

Wally: Yeah, you had three doctors.  Two of whom testified about how the pressure was for doctors to prescribe, prescribe, prescribe.  C.I. said, in her first report on the hearing, it was as though the VA motto was  "Addiction gets them home."

Dona: True.  You really went with that, C.I.  Why?

C.I.: It was appalling.  In 2013, there's no excuse for playing like you don't know your actions are creating addicts.  That's what the VA's so-called 'treatment' is doing.  It's outrageous.  It's like what MGM did with Judy Garland and others in the days gone by.  How can a doctor working in the US in 2013 prescribe addictive drugs over and over -- cocktails of them -- there's no excuse for this.  And when veterans complain or ask that their dosage be reduced, the VA ignores them.  Either this is a text book case of malpractice or there is an unpublicized 'health' plan at the VA insisting that veterans be turned into drug addicts.

Dona: Kat, I'm coming back to you for the second thing regarding the shutdown hearing.  Are you thinking Shinseki?

Kat: That's exactly what I was thinking.  Eric Shineski s the Secretary of the VA and he was given the chance to step up in the Wednesday hearing and fight for veterans but he refused.  He refused to insist that House bills already passed for the VA be passed by the Senate.  He refused to.  He toed the administration line.  Good lackey, bad spokesperson or advocate for veterans.

Ava: There doesn't appear to be any oversight at the VA.  Eric Shinseki's been a failure for four years now and he needs to be replaced.

Dona: C.I., you would agree?

C.I.: Absolutely.  The VA is out of control.  It is a medical failure what's taken place with prescriptions.  And Shinseki's got nothing to say and, worse, no plan in place to address it?  The most simple plan in the world is for the VA to enforce the same regulations for doctors that are in place for the civilian world -- start pulling licenses and bringing charges against doctors.  His inability to do that probably goes to this actually being VA official policy and practice.  Regardless, he needs to step down.  Will he?  Probably not but that is what should happen.

Dona:  Wally?

Wally:  I agree.  It was policy.  One doctor, Dr. Pamela Gray, spoke about trying to go through channels to expose the overprescribing orders.  She did not go public.  She did not go to the press.  She tried to work within VA channels and they got rid of her on trumped up charges to stop the ongoing scandal.  This is a reflection on Shinseki.  If he is not 100% corrupt then he is at least 80% incompetent and stupid.  He needs to go.

Dona: Ava, I'm giving you the last word.

Ava: Okay.  Well he needs to go -- we all agree Shinseki needs to go.  As C.I. said, that's probably not going to happen.  But America needs to be aware that the VA is not helping veterans right now.  They are overmedicating them and doing so in the civilian world would result in people being tossed in prisons -- doctors and administrators.  It's disgusting that Shinseki provides no order or oversight.  He will be remembered as one of the worst VA Secretaries.

Dona: Alright, on that opinion we'll conclude.  Again, rush transcript.

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