Richmond VA must stop animal testing
For the past two years, the Richmond Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center has been under fire for being one of the last VA hospitals still performing controversial testing on dogs — testing that veterans like me don’t want or need. With new leadership forthcoming, the Richmond VA has an opportunity to clean up this waste and abuse.
For decades, the Richmond VA has been using veterans’ resources to purchase dogs, cut them apart and inflict heart damage, and force them to run on treadmills. As discovered through investigations by taxpayer watchdog group White Coat Waste Project, some of the dogs are subjected to excruciating pain and distress and the VA intentionally withholds pain relief. After the tests, the dogs are killed and dissected. Some may recall the “reckless” Richmond VA doctor who killed dogs with sloppy surgeries, was banned from animal testing, but was subsequently awarded large salary bonuses and a raise for his “performance.” This is perhaps the best example to date of the VA’s incompetence and accountability failures.
As a Virginia resident, veteran, and veterans advocate, I believe the Richmond VA’s disgraced dog-testing program should end, for three key reasons:
First, it doesn’t help veterans. As reported by USA Today, “When asked to cite the most recent breakthroughs credited to the VA dog research, [VA] pointed to the invention of an implantable cardiac pacemaker and procedures that led to the first successful liver transplant. Those experiments date to the 1960s, according to the VA’s website.” Neither of these came out of Richmond, either. Last month, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, a Virginiabased group representing more than 46,000 combatwounded veterans, called for an end to what they referred to as the VA’s “widely opposed and unproductive medical experimentation on dogs.”
Second, it’s wasteful. The head of the Richmond VA’s employees’ union said, “These experiments also come at a huge cost to our veterans, wasting limited resources that prevent them from receiving the timely and quality care that the VA, Congress and Americans have promised them for their sacrifice.” In the meantime, veterans like me continue to struggle to get doctor’s appointments and treatment for pressing physical and mental health issues. The VA is suffering from a dangerous shortage of doctors due in part to low pay, yet the Richmond VA is wasting money needed to hire qualified health care providers to buy more puppies to kill and hire more animal testing staff to do it.
Third, veterans, taxpayers, and lawmakers don’t want it. In a time of tense, unprecedented political partisanship, ending VA dog testing is one of the few issues both Democrats and Republicans agree on and are motivated to tackle, both locally and nationally.
President Donald Trump has now twice signed bipartisan legislation to cut funding for the VA’s dog testing and implement severe restrictions on the practice. Last session, the PUPPERS Act — introduced by former Richmond-area Congressman Dave Brat — attracted more than 100 Republican and Democratic co-sponsors. The bill is being re-introduced in Congress soon, and Brat’s successor, Abigail Spanberger, should join this effort to demonstrate her commitment to standing up for veterans. Even immediatepast VA secretary, Dr. David Shulkin, tweeted last year, “As #SecVA and to this day-I remain opposed towards any new #dog research.”
Here in the commonwealth, lawmakers enacted bipartisan legislation in 2018 cutting funding for the Richmond VA’s most painful dog testing, which Virginians were being forced to pay for twice — with both federal and state tax dollars. And Virginia’s secretary of veterans and defense affairs, Carlos Hopkins, a fellow Army veteran, even told reporters of Richmond’s dog tests, “That’s certainly not something that we’re supporting here in Virginia.” And the Richmond Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has condemned canine cruelty at the local VA.
Despite the overwhelming support for reforms and progress that’s been made, including other VA facilities shutting down their dog labs, the Richmond VA continues to waste our money to hurt defenseless puppies.
Whoever takes the helm of the Richmond VA should immediately terminate this provocative and unnecessary pet project and refocus the facility’s mission on effectively serving Virginia’s veterans.
The Richmond VA continues to waste our money to hurt defenseless puppies.