The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is facing criticism from Republican lawmakers and veterans groups over its continued fatal dog experiments paid for on the taxpayers’ dime — and may even be in violation of federal law.
Documents obtained by USA Today reportedly reveal that the department is moving forward with the deadly experiments in hope for discoveries that could help veterans with spinal cord or breathing problems. However, President Donald Trump signed a bill into law earlier this year requiring that such tests be “directly approved” by the VA secretary.
— 8News WRIC Richmond (@8NEWS) September 20, 2018
While VA spokesman Curt Cashour claimed former secretary David Shulkin verbally approved the continuation of the experiments on the day he was fired, Shulkin told the outlet he “wasn’t asked, nor did I request a review for an approval.”
Under these questionable circumstances, it appears the cruel and wasteful experiments are continuing at VA facilities in Richmond, Cleveland, and Milwaukee and include removing parts of dogs’ brains, using electrodes on their spinal cords and implanting pacemakers in them — all before ultimately euthanizing them.
But GOP legislators and veterans alike were swift to express their outrage at the practice.
GOP Lawmakers and Veterans Groups Call for Reform
Veteran and chairman of the House Animal Protection Caucus, Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), slammed the news in a tweet, writing that “it’s time to end this canine house of horrors”:
I’m calling for an immediate investigation into the Veterans Affairs Dept. for resuming cruel and inhumane experiments on dogs. It’s time to end this canine house of horrors where the spinal cords of dogs are severed to test their cough reflex. https://t.co/FYWOkBzRHE
— Rep. Vern Buchanan (@VernBuchanan) November 2, 2018
Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.), combat-wounded Army veteran and House Veterans Affairs Committee member, promised to “keep up the pressure” on the VA until the experiments are brought “to an end”:
The VA has not executed what we wanted as intent, which is to bring this to an end in its entirety. We will keep up the pressure until these invasive, painful and deadly experiments on dogs stop completely.https://t.co/TCUjjjGFXW
— Rep. Brian Mast (@RepBrianMast) November 2, 2018
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), co-sponsor of the PUPPERS Act aimed at permanently stopping the abuse, also took to Twitter to share his concern over the continued tests:
Troubling report about the VA continuing some highly questionable and cruel dog testing. Proud to cosponsor the PUPPERS Act to stop this waste and abuse. https://t.co/UO6OtEQ6jV
— Rep. Matt Gaetz (@RepMattGaetz) November 2, 2018
Additionally, Sherman Gillums, a paralyzed veteran and the chief policy offer at AMVETS, ripped the department by comparing the deadly experiments to former NFL star Michael Vick’s abuse of dogs:
On the @DeptVetAffairs decision to restart its canine research program after Congress passed legislation to curb and ultimately eliminate painful and deadly lab testing on dogs … pic.twitter.com/w5sxG1ul4N
— S. Gillums Jr. (@SGillums) November 2, 2018
Shulkin Pledges His Opposition
Following the backlash, Shulkin responded by reaffirming his opposition to the experiments both when he served as VA secretary and “to this day”:
Thank You @AMVETSHQ @SGillums for your #leadership on this important issue. As #SecVA and to this day-I remain opposed towards any new #dog research #ScienceOverPolitics @VFWHQ @DAVHQ @legionindc @VAChair @USATODAY https://t.co/FeoAkdject
— David J. Shulkin, MD (@DavidShulkin) November 2, 2018
Taxpayer watchdog and animal rights advocacy group White Coat Waste Project, which has been working to expose and hold several federal agencies accountable for expensive and abusive animal tests, also put the department on blast.
“Over the past 18 months, there’s been historic progress toward ending VA’s fiscally reckless and morally repugnant dog testing — projects have been canceled, new restrictions enacted, less money spent, fewer dogs used — and there would’ve been more if not for a few entrenched bureaucrats at the VA defying Congress, veterans and taxpayers,” it told IJR.