Titus Leads Call for Investigation into Painful Dog Testing at the VA

Dec 18, 2018
Press Release
Experiments on Dogs at the VA May Have Been Approved Without Secretarial Authority – Contrary to Federal Law
December 18, 2018
 
Washington, DC – Today Representative Dina Titus of Nevada’s First Congressional District led a bipartisan letter to the Inspector General (IG) of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) calling for an investigation into the Agency’s use of painful and outdated dog experiments. The letter requests that the IG investigate whether the VA moved forward with experiments on dogs without approval by the Secretary as required under current law.  
 
“I spoke with Secretary Shulkin about this issue the very day the VA now claims he gave approval for these experiments,” said Representative Titus. “He has repeatedly said he never gave such approval, leading many to wonder if VA staff ignored federal law thinking no one would notice. These are serious questions about the administration of the VA and the stewardship of taxpayers’ dollars, and they must be answered. Unfortunately, this lack of transparency is all too common in the Trump Administration.” 
 
Representative Titus, a former Ranking Member on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, has long questioned the use of animals for testing by the federal government. She first questioned the use of dogs in experiments by the VA in 2016.   
 
“While this investigation unfolds, I will continue to push for an outright ban on taxpayer-funded, painful experiments on dogs. Next Congress I will reintroduce the Preventing Unkind and Painful Procedures and Experiments on Respected Species (PUPPERS) Act. It is my hope that current VA Secretary Wilkie will recognize that this kind of cruel testing is no longer acceptable and that it is time for him to work with Congress to find more humane and efficient alternatives.” 
 
Rep. Titus was joined on the letter by Congressman Brat (R-VA), and service veterans Congressman Lieu (D-CA), Congressman Buchanan (R-FL), and Congressman Mast (R-FL). 
 
See the full text of the letter:
 
The Honorable Michael J. Missal
Inspector General
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW 
Washington, DC 20420
 
Dear Inspector General Missal,
 
We write to request an immediate investigation into irregularities regarding the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) use of painful and outdated dog experimentation. Recent media reports and correspondence with VA Secretary Robert Wilkie raise questions as to whether the VA secured the necessary approval from then-Secretary David Shulkin to continue nine ongoing dog studies at the VA. This is particularly concerning since purchases were made in support of these studies that could only have legally occurred with then-Secretary Shulkin’s approval. The inconsistencies between the accounts of former-Secretary Shulkin and Secretary Wilkie regarding this approval underscore the VA’s persistent lack of transparency and accountability in its use of this cruel practice. 
 
As you may be aware, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 that was signed into law on March 23, 2018, included language defunding and restricting dog testing at the VA. Section 254 of the law makes clear that the Secretary of the VA must approve the use of such testing, stating in part, “None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used to conduct research using canines unless…the study has been directly approved by the Secretary.”[i] 
 
Documents released via the Freedom of Information Act show that on March 28, 2018, less than a week after the enactment of the new omnibus restrictions, the Cleveland VA Medical Center initiated a $42,721 pre-order for seven shipments of canines to be used in research with delivery dates extending from June 2018 well into FY19.[ii] Concerned that these purchases were inconsistent with the FY18 funding restrictions, Members of Congress sent a letter on August 8, 2018, to the VA to request that the Agency provide a list of all dog experiments that had been approved by the Secretary and the Chief of Research and Development since March 2018.[iii] 
 
In a September 27, 2018, response to Congress, Secretary Wilkie wrote that nine ongoing VA dog experiments – including the study at the Cleveland VA – “were approved for continuation by then-Secretary David Shulkin on March 28, 2018”, and that “accordingly, any purchases to support those ongoing studies with FY2018 funds are fully compliant with the requirements of Section 254.”[iv] A VA spokesperson claims that former-Secretary Shulkin gave “verbal” approval on March 28, 2018 — the same day he was fired — for the continuation of the nine studies. 
 
Former-Secretary Shulkin has rejected this assertion, however, telling USA Today on November 1, 2018, that he “wasn’t asked, nor did [he] request a review for an approval.”[v] Furthermore, Dr. Shulkin stated in a November 9, 2018, news report that, “I did not authorize a formal approval of continued studies” and that “if there was approval by the Secretary, there would have been a signature for approval….VA does not do things with verbal approvals in situations like this.” [vi] 
 
Given these conflicting accounts, we request that you investigate the following:
1) Were the nine ongoing VA dog experiments “directly approved” by then-Secretary Shulkin, as required by federal law per VA spending bills enacted for FY18 and FY19?
a. If so, when? How was this approval documented?
2) Were the aforementioned Cleveland VA Medical Center dog purchases initiated before the so-called “verbal approval” was secured from Dr. Shulkin?
3) How much canine research did the VA conduct between March 28, 2018, and November 1, 2018, in possible violation of the FY18 and FY19 funding restrictions?
a. How many dogs were purchased and used?
b. How much money was spent to conduct research using canines?
c. Where did these projects take place, and what local officials approved them in the apparent absence of Secretary-level approval?
4) Did any VA dog purchases employ sole source contracts? If so, what was the justification?
5) For VA dog experiments that have continued into FY19, did Secretary Wilkie “directly approve” each of these projects as required by Section 247 of the FY19 MILCON-VA conference report? 
a. If so, when and how was this approval given? His direct and personal approval for any projects to continue into FY19 would have been required by October 1, 2018. 
 
Thank you for your attention to this matter. Should you have any questions, please contact Christine Godinez (Christine.Godinez@mail.house.gov) in the office of Congresswoman Dina Titus.            
 
Sincerely,
 
 
 
_________________________
Dina Titus 
Member of Congress
 
 
 
_________________________
Dave Brat
Member of Congress
 
 
_________________________
Ted Lieu
Member of Congress
 
 
_________________________
Vern Buchanan
Member of Congress
 
 
_________________________
Brian J. Mast
Member of Congress
 
Enclosures:
1) Freedom of Information ActPDF icondocuments obtained by the White Coat Waste Project on July 9, 2018 
2) August 8, 2018,PDF iconletter from Congresswoman Dina Titus and Congressman Dave Brat to Secretary Wilkie
3) September 27, 2018, PDF iconletter from Secretary Wilkie to Congresswoman Dina Titus