VA facility covers up the killing of dogs in medical experiments

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A VA facility in Ohio is facing intense scrutiny this week for allegedly lying about dogs that had died during medical experiments, claiming all of them had gone on to be adopted by families.

According to the federal database USASpending.gov, the Louis Stokes Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio spent $5,800 to purchase “five mongrels for research” in March 2017. The Washington Free Beacon subsequently reached out to the facility in April to inquire about the pups, and a spokesperson told them the dogs turned out to be inappropriate for the study and were all given to local families.

“The dogs most recently purchased did not fit the needs of the study, so the VA was reimbursed from the vendor and we adopted them out to local families,” the spokeswoman said in an email.

She also noted that even though the facility keeps “detailed records of all or our research projects” the information the Free Beacon asked for “doesn’t exist.”

However, the facility was caught in a lie when taxpayer watchdog group White Coat Waste Project (WCW), via a Freedom of Information Act request, obtained internal VA documents on the five animals. The records show that three of the five dogs, all of which were supposedly adopted out, were killed on March 23, 27, and 30, a month before the Free Beacon inquiry.

Following the deaths, the experiments ceased and the two remaining dogs were set to be adopted out on April 3. Further records show the two dogs were marked as “adopted out” on April 28, the same day of the initial Free Beacon inquiry.

WCW says upon subsequent review of the documents received, they’ve deduced that the facility purchases the dogs in groups, then conducts experiments and notes their deaths or adoptions within a few days. They don’t purchase a new group until all the dogs have been adopted or die. The Free Beacon contacted the VA on April 28 and specifically asked about the dogs the facility purchased in March.

The spokesperson said the false information she gave was a result of a misunderstanding.

“There was a misunderstanding on my part with regard to the specific group of dogs your outlet asked about,” she said in an emailed statement. “At the time of the request, two of the five most recently purchased dogs had been adopted out. The other three had been used in the research project and were no longer at the facility.”

Only one dog was adopted out of the 25 killed in experiments over the last year, before the WCW began its campaign against the practice, and only two after the campaign began.

“The records we’ve obtained through FOIA show that on an ongoing basis, the Cleveland VA is using our tax dollars to buy batches of hounds as young as nine-months-old, subject the puppies [and adults] to invasive and deadly experiments within days of their arrival, and then buy more dogs and repeat the process,” said Justin Goodman, WCW’s vice president.

“The VA has a difficult relationship with the truth,” he added. “They only acknowledged the full extent of their experiments on dogs—and that some are done on dogs still considered puppies—after we found the evidence of it through FOIA requests. Now it appears that dogs they told reporters they ‘adopted out’ were actually killed in experiments.”

VA Secretary David Shulkin defended the practice in a USA Today op-ed earlier this month, but the public is largely against it. A new national survey found that a majority of veterans and their family members—56 percent—say they “support legislation to prohibit taxpayer funding of the most painful categories of dog experiments at the VA.” Twenty percent said they opposed the measure, with the remaining 24 percent undecided.

And Congress has responded, with the House passing language that would prohibit the VA from spending any taxpayer money on the most painful dog experiments in fiscal year 2018. The Senate is set to examine the legislation this fall.

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