WASHINGTON, D.C - The Department of Veterans Affairs Inspector General today launched a review of the Agency’s use of painful and outdated experiments on dogs. The review follows a years-long push by Rep. Mast and a bipartisan group of Members of Congress to defund and prohibit painful experimentation on dogs at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The review will seek to determine if federal law defunding the tests–co-written by Rep. Mast–was violated by the Department of Veterans Affairs continued experimentation.
“We need to get to the bottom of how these harmful experiments on dogs have continued after we passed a law explicitly defunding them,” Rep. Mast said. “After suffering injuries on the battlefield myself, I am definitely aware of the vital role dogs play in helping troops recover from war's physical and psychological tolls. These tests are abusive, unnecessary and a massive waste of taxpayer dollars.”
The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 that was signed into law on March 23, 2018, included language co-written by Rep. Mast 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.”
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.
Concerned that these purchases were inconsistent with the FY18 funding restrictions, Rep. Mast and a bipartisan group of 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.
In a September 27, 2018, response to Congress, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert 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.”
A VA spokesperson subsequently claimed that former-Secretary Shulkin gave “verbal” approval on March 28, 2018 — the same day he was fired — for the continuation of the nine studies; however, Former-Secretary Shulkin has rejected this assertion. He told USA Today on November 1, 2018, that he “wasn’t asked, nor did [he] request a review for an approval.” Furthermore, Dr. Shulkin stated in a November 9, 2018, news report that, “I did not authorize a formal approval of continued studies.”
On December 18, 2018, Rep. Mast and a bipartisan group of Members of Congress requested that the Department of Veterans Affairs Inspector General review these conflicting accounts to determine if the law written by Rep. Mast and others was violated.
Today, the Members received confirmation from the Inspector General that “we have initiated a review that will address the questions that were raised in the letter.”