VA accountability should matter to everyone — especially animal lovers
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Last Friday, the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 was signed into law. Chances are, if you are a veteran, family member of a veteran, or veterans’ advocate, you are well-versed in the need for VA accountability.

However, if you’re not a veteran yourself or aren’t directly related to one, you may not know why issues relating to VA accountability should matter to you.  

They should, and that’s because, according to a new internal report, the VA is not just negligent in providing service to veterans, but also in how it conducts invasive research on dogs, something the majority of Americans are opposed to, regardless of their military or political affiliation.  


Although there are only 21.8 million veterans in the United States, there are about 89.7 million dogs. Thus, despite an increasing military-civilian divide, the VA’s mistreatment of our furry friends should elicit anger even from those with no other direct ties to the veteran community.

It’s an issue that is already uniting unlikely Republican and Democratic allies in Congress, as dogs so often do.

For those that have not been following the issue of VA accountability closely, you may remember that, in 2014, a scandal emerged where VA was lying about patient wait times, and that some veterans died while awaiting care.  

You may also remember that lawmakers, as they often do, grandstanded and demanded better care for our vets. This extended throughout the 2016 Presidential election cycle. You may remember that this issue has vacillated in and out of the news cycle ever since.

Regardless of your politics and how you may feel about President Trump, last week, he made good on his campaign promises regarding veterans, by providing the VA with more power to fire failed employees and protect those who uncover wrongdoing at the agency.

For both the veteran and the non-veteran audience, amongst all the talk of VA accountability, you might have missed ongoing news about the VA abusing and killing hundreds of dogs in wasteful experiments at its research facilities in Richmond, Los Angeles, Cleveland and Milwaukee.  That’s because, as noted by Air Force veteran and California Congressman Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), “We were not aware of it, and frankly, no one was aware of it.”

That’s right — in recent years, the VA has not only failed to provide quality and care and services to our nation’s veterans, but it has wasted taxpayer resources on cruel and unnecessary testing on dogs.

At the same time that the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act was being signed, the VA Office of Research Oversight was quietly finalizing a report in response to complaints filed by Congress and the White Coat Waste Project, a government watchdog group that seeks to end taxpayer funded experiments on animals.

According to the 42-page internal report, VA’s Office of Research Oversight substantiated the main complaints about the facility’s mistreatment of puppies in painful heart attack studies and related dog experiments in 2015 and 2016.

Moreover, in addition to substantiating the initial complaint about dog abuse, the Office of Research Oversight also found:

“Lack of documentation to establish whether animals were appropriately evaluated and received supportive care.”

“Non-adherence to provisions of the written Program of Veterinary Care.”

“Deviations from approved study procedures and implementation of changes to studies without prior IACUC approval.”

"Protocols that lacked necessary information to inform the IACUC’s review and approval process.”

“Deficient reporting and record keeping practices with regard to animal usage and disposition.”

The VA’s failed oversight of controversial dog experiments adds credibility to the ongoing concerns that VA healthcare isn’t providing our nation’s veterans with the high quality healthcare they deserve.

This is precisely why the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 is so important.

Through the microcosm of its dog research program, VA has a unique opportunity to redefine accountability at the agency, and to let the results of that redefinition positively impact the veterans it was designed to serve.

Rather than viewing accountability as a consequence for poor performance, VA can choose to rise above the circumstances and demonstrate the necessary leadership and ownership for achieving its desired results – “honoring America's veterans by providing exceptional healthcare that improves their health and well-being.”

Today, VA is briefing Congressional offices on the status of its noncompliant dog research program at the embattled Richmond VA.  VA can take the first step toward implementing its new accountability reform by taking ownership of the dog research program’s abominable performance and announcing an end to all such experiments, so they can return their attention and resources to direct care and services for veterans.

Rory E. Riley-Topping has dedicated her career to ensuring accountability within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to care for our nation’s veterans. She is the principal at Riley-Topping Consulting and has served in a legal capacity for the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, the National Veterans Legal Services Program, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, and the Department of Veterans Affairs, and can be reached on Twitter @RileyTopping. 

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.