Legislators Call on VA to Stop Over-Prescription of Powerful Painkillers

By Sandra Basu

WASHINGTON — In the wake of accusations that veterans are over-prescribed powerful painkillers, a House of Representatives subcommittee chairman called on VA to adopt more effective pain management protocols.

 “The stakes are too high for VA to continue to get it wrong,” said Rep. Dan Benishek, MD, (R-MI), who chaired a subcommittee hearing titled Between Peril and Promise: Facing the Dangers of VA’s Skyrocketing Use of Prescription Painkillers to Treat Veterans.”

Benishek questioned VA for using what he says is a pain management treatment model “that makes primary care, rather than specialty care, the predominant treatment setting for veterans suffering from pain.” Benishek worked part-time at the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center in Iron Mountain, MI, for 20 years.

The hearing came on the heels of a report by the Center for Investigative Reporting that VA prescriptions of hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone and morphine increased by 270% in the past 12 years. The data for the report was obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

“VA can and must change course and act now to reduce their reliance on the use of prescription painkillers,” Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said at the hearing.

Rep. Dan Benishek, MD, (R-MI), worked part time as a physician at the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center in Iron Mountain, MI, for 20 years.

Toll of Painkillers

Veterans and family members of deceased veterans testified at the subcommittee about the toll of overprescribing opioids at VA facilities.

Heather Renae McDonald told lawmakers that her husband, Scott Alan McDonald, was treated by the VA and was on up to 15 pills a day within the first six months of back pain and mental health treatment. In September of 2012, she said she found her husband dead on their couch after he had been prescribed Percocet.

McDonald maintained that her husbands’ liver was inflamed and that VA clinicians would have known that if they had done liver function testing, in light of the large number of medications he was taking.

“When I asked VA why more tests were not performed to make sure he was healthy enough, they responded that it was not routine to evaluate our soldiers’ pain medication distribution,” she told lawmakers.

Kimberly Stowe Green, meanwhile, told lawmakers that her husband, Ricky Green, died in 2011 “because of the prescription pain and sleeping medications that VA and its doctors prescribed for him.” Green said that the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory and the state medical examiner performed an autopsy and found the cause of death was “mixed drug intoxication.”

“The VA already has written guidelines for prescribing painkillers, but these are not being followed,” she told lawmakers.

Justin Minyard, who is medically retired from the Army, said that he had suffered from back pain and was prescribed painkillers by both DoD and VA healthcare providers. At his worst point, he said he was taking enough opioid pain medication to treat four terminally ill cancer patients.

After looking for other options to control his pain, he found a doctor at Fort Bragg who was conducting a clinical trial of spinal cord stimulation. That treatment has been successful for him, and he said he is now off opioids. He cautioned, however, that not all veterans and servicemembers have the resources and awareness to advocate for alternatives to opioids pain regimens.

“My wife had to advocate for me, not taking ‘no’ for an answer,” he said in his written statement.

Physician Pressure

In other testimony, two VA physicians testifying before the House subcommittee said they were pressured to prescribe painkillers to patients.

Pamela Gray, MD, told the subcommittee she was coerced into prescribing prescription painkillers at the Hampton, VA, VAMC, where she worked from 2008 to 2010 before being fired after she objected to those practices, according to her testimony.

“During my two-year period, I was coerced to writing drug [prescriptions] that I knew in my medical experience were wrong. When I would object, I was simply told to do it or else,” she said.

Gray further said that she would document in her medical notes in the electronic health record that she was being coerced by nonmedical employees to write prescriptions for opioids but that the notes were altered.

Gray also said she was named the head of pain management at her medical center on the first day of her job, despite havingno training for it.

“I was never asked if I wanted to assume this role. I was informed. I was [in] pain management with zero training,” she explained. “My concern with that is that it is not standard of care.”

Another clinician, Claudia J. Bahorik, DO, also told lawmakers of the predicament facing VA physicians when it comes to prescribing painkillers.

“It is not uncommon for a doctor to refuse to write a narcotics prescription only to have the [veteran] go to the administration,” she said. “What happens? The administrator calls another doc and tells them to write the prescription or the vet will go to the emergency room to get their narcotics. Worse yet, doctors are being verbally abused, attacked or injured when veterans who are on dangerous concoctions of mind-altering substances are cut off.”

In response, VHA Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Health Robert L. Jesse, MD, thanked the family members of the deceased veterans for sharing their stories at the hearing. He also told the subcommittee that VA is “strongly committed to ensuring veterans do have what they need to manage their pain, and that includes not just medications.”

“This is not an issue limited to veterans. Veterans are a population who are particularly challenged, but this is a national crisis,” Jesse pointed out.

When lawmakers asked Jesse about concerns that physicians were pressured to write prescriptions, he said that was “absolutely indefensible” and that, as physicians, they should “feel absolutely that they should refuse to do that.”

Also testifying was Steven Scott, MD, VHA chief of physical medicine and rehabilitation service. He discussed the pain-reduction strategies used at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital and Clinics in Tampa, FL. The facility has both an inpatient and outpatient Chronic Pain Rehabilitation Program that uses a variety of strategies.It has been twice recognized as a Clinical Center of Excellence by the American Pain Society, according to Scott’s written testimony.

Still, lawmakers suggested that the system must be fixed. Rep. Julia Brownley (D-CA) said that while she has faith that there are pockets of excellence in the VA, the system “appears to be broken.”

“How do you respond to the comments that we have a system of quick-and-cheap over good-and-thorough and that the basic principles of medicine have been abandoned?,” she asked.

“I don’t believe that is the case systemwide,” Jesse responded.

Comments (46)

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  1. Rattoo says:

    These propagandists must think the American people are stupid. Due to the nature of their serious injuries and the way wounds, nerve injuries, and breaks healed, many Vets are in severe life-long pain. The number of people overdosing or abusing painkillers is tiny. These Vets need painkillers to make life bearable. This propaganda War is just another way to save money on the backs of Vets, and drive Vets in pain to suicide. Is this what the government wants?

    • Chris says:

      Right on the money, I have chronic back leg and knee pain and vicodin only helps mask it, I only take it when in dire pain, but I’ll take this over anything else. Pain management, yoga medics, steroid injections, cortisone injection, nothing works, and some made it worse. I’m still tweaking my meds to find a perfect combo, but I have a very specific system designed and it works really well. Not everyone will benefit from pain killers but it’s possible to find a working combo.

    • veteran nurse says:

      I agree, we have a group of doctors at the Tampa outpatient that want me to tells patients to loose weight, do yoga, see a psychologist or spend 3 weeks out of work get into in-patient care at the cost of their jobs and lively hood because they (who have never had such pain) don’t believe in opioids. We have even have a man jump off the balcony when he was denied and not even seen by his doctor when he brought test results to present as proof as to why he needed more pain meds. now he, who is in a hospital for his injuries is seen as the dangerous bad guy.

    • Joe Gerringer says:

      Exactly! I don’t even take anything that’s a Narcotic but even my pain meds I take the VA simply keeps sending them without giving me any other care. And now whenever I call for a renewal (since they only give one script at a time) they are starting to make that difficult as well. They countless of times tell me I need to see my doctor before calling the Pharmacy for a renewal but my doctor is old, slow, and frankly I don’t think even cares for me to show up just to ask for another prescription! Ridiculous service and ridiculous operating procedures. Thank goodness my wife is a nurse and soon I can find other treatment for my neck pain. But you would think the VA would do all they could since it’s not like I hurt it over time. An IED broke my neck!

    • Wesley Campbell, Vet says:

      Suicide is exactly what the VA wants vets to do! They have found a way to kill us off now, AND THEY ARE DOING IT! The minute I am made to live with my pain which is service-connected I will commit suicide, make no mistake about that VA!

      • Mary Blair says:

        I am 184 percent service connected. I need my meds to have any type of life. But if the take my meds away, I will be gone. No way am I going to live without some sort of relief. I go 17 days without sleep , and I need ambiem for that. But va said I would have to choose, sleep or pain relief. My doctor said he will fight to keep me at a 5 level of pain, and that I need sleep, so my doc said he will do my best. My doc said he went to school to help his patients, and reduced my suffering. But the doc hands are tide. My doc has to go to the administration to get the ambien every month. I don’t understand that an admin, paper pusher, said his 4 year degree is better then his 12 years of education, is not good enough. My doc has lost his right to give a better quality of life for a patient.

    • Emily Caudill says:

      Every pill you are prescribed comes with a full printout of every side effect and drug interaction. It is ultimately up to us the patients, as it often says on the bottle take as needed. Every time the VA gives us a new refill we get another printout, so this blame game is just ridiculous. I recently tried to commit suicide because I am in so much physical pain. I can’t live like this! This HYSTERIA is causing real people horrible pain, and I believe it has caused some to turn to illegal drugs (the old people in Fl who abused heroin.) I also believe that someone who is desperate and unstable might (this is not a threat) end up hurting someone or more than one person, because people who have no hope of their pain ending are desperate and desperate people do desperate things.

    • Roy Davis says:

      I agree with you %100! I am 73 yrs old and suffer from chronic pain due to degenerative joint disease and degenerative disc disease. I had two hip replacements but, for some odd reason the degeneration process started to spread to other areas of my body started.

      I informed my doctor at my age, the number of operations required to relieve all of those conditions is not practical nor is it worth the investment nor can I afford the astronomical co-pays.

      Moreover, the oxycodone is the only medication that provides me enough relief to make my life somewhat functional and manergeable.

      There are far too many people lacking common sense including our so-call political leadership. Many of these OD cases include: using drugs to get high, using drugs to escape certain types of emotional pain(family/relationship problems etc), frustration with individual disabilities and plus adding alcohol into the mix that will lead to an overdoses.

      However, that is not our problem, it is an individual problem. This one shoe fits all is Jurassic park thinking.

      I am preparing a scathing letter to the congressional committee for veterans services for not conducting an official survey/study among the veterans first, a professional research process to understand what veteran population are affected the most by overdoses ie age and types of disabilities etc.

      I think a very shoddy job was done towards collecting the proper information.

      By the way, I am surprise the pharmceautical industry has not launched a counter offensive given the amount of money they will be loosing.

    • Jeff says:

      I am also a chronic pain victim. I have been on morphine for 10.5 years. In those years I have NEVER taken more medicine then prescribed or ASK to have a prescription filled early. I have More pain now than I had when I was first injured and prescribed morphine, because I am 10 years older and the arthritis that came with the injury is much worse now. The government is trying to save money. At the cost of its weakest citizens. Ironically when I got injured I was testing boat strength for the U.S. Coast Guard. If the government is hiding behind deaths by actual severe pain sufferers I bet there will be more deaths from suicide, if you have ever been in pain like myself with out the help of a drug like morphine you just want to die. The wealthy get stronger and “the backs that got walked on” LOSE more. When will it stop?

      • Anthony Feltner says:

        This seems freedom is being chipped away at at every level.In 1930 if you had need of pure hair one you simply got the Sears catalog out filled out the order number and ordered it through the mail six weeks later there was that your doorstep. What happened is alcohol and the need to stop people from making money unreported to IRS . Then after having control in seeing how much money they could make one I’ll call was legalized. That’s when they started looking at all the other things like heroin and marijuana all the things that they put propaganda out on some things that were so ridiculous that it’s taking 100 years almost for us to realize marijuana is too valuable not to be legal because the Manessa Pole purposes and here is another one that was taken away and still is being regulated let’s stop regulations let’s go back to America being America freedom good luck guys . I just wanted to say one month ago I was giving 120 mg of oxycodone I am cut back to 20 mg a day I take morphine sulfate 30 mg every 12 hours they took all my daytime meds and try to throw it in one big barrel and so far that’s what they’re doing I get 120mg For six years now I get 20 in two months a day instead of 120 mg .I call the medical advocate he was very concerned it was so fast but make no mistake, they will cut them till there gone too many overdoses of young guys come back without limbs and they don’t know how to take meds .

        • Don says:

          Mr.Anthony First of all I won’t to personally thank you for your military service and all men and women alike . My situation is different sir from the age of 15 my life was made up of construction work heavy equipment repair and graduated to Hvac and low temperature mechanical repair well now at the age of 51 and forced to have to live on the system that I paid into dew to degeneratetive disc disease and acute spinal stenosis from daily heavy lifting and body positioning has me in very similar situation “chronic pain” my meds threw Medicare are on live in pain and enjoy it to I’m sorry we are all statistics and sub human when we are no longer able to pay the man but just know you are not the only one living this life of its so hard to deal with our situation hang in there Bro.

  2. Ron Sacks says:

    It seems to me that if the VA were doing their job, overdoses and combination drug interactions causing the deaths of Veterans, would be much less and opioid prescriptions would not be an issue. I am a 100% T & P disabled vet with severe back and leg pain. I’ve been taking Hydrocodone for about 13 years, it works for me! Now, with all this talk of suicides and miss-use, the VA stopped prescribing the hydrocodone altogether. After several attempts by the VA to get my body to accept Oxycodone, oxycotton, methodone gabbapenton without causing adverse effects, they wrote me a prescription for extended release Hydrocodone to be filled outside the VA at my expense. I’ve never taken more than prescribed, don’t sell, hand out, or take the medication for any other reason other than what it was prescribed for.
    Question? why do they not treat each vet as an individual and why should I have to pay out of pocket for a service connected disability..?

  3. Darrell austin says:

    I’m a constituent of Mr Benishek. His hidden agenda is coming of age savings millions and taking pain medication from chronic pain patients will increase suicides ultimately reducing the role call. He is a veteran doctor that’s sitting in judgment of fellow doctors.

  4. ken darden says:

    There are two sides to each story!

    This new DEA policy in addition to the retirement of my long-term PCP caused my automatic renews to be cancelled.

    I am ok with this new rule; however, my new PCP decided not to renew my prescription until she sees me first. I have been on the same medication for 5 years which is vicodin.

    I did not learn of the retirement of my PCP until I had to go to the emergency room for severe muscle spasms in my back and sciatic nerve pain in left leg. I had a few pills left so I was given a muscle relaxer to go along with the vicodin and told to schedule an appointment with PCP asap for MRI.

    Now, I am in more pain, had oral surgery performed and not given medication because my record showed me receiving vicodin which was discontinued. Had to go to patient’s advocate to seek help, only to be told to go to emergency room for medication until scheduled appointment a month away. Emergency staff is not authorized to prescribe any type of NSAIDs so I received 2 shots for my pain and some Naproxen.

    There are many doctors working for the VA from Middle-Eastern countries that do not believe in giving strong pain medications and refuse to acknowledge disabilities due to pain.

    Ever wonder why so many VA disability claims are denied?

    Finally, Obama did not create this problem so please don’t go there!

    • Abigail Engel says:

      Your experience very much mirrors mine. I can’t get to the VA Medical Center. I have no transportation, and live too far to walk. I walk regularly, have never failed a drug test and had no knowledge of a change of my last two providers until it was done. I do not qualify for travel. I am overweight. I am getting desperate. I suffer so much and not one freaking soul in the system cares. The one who did just left after a few months on the job. I called my counselor who replied, “I hear this all of the time. The changes have happened. I keep getting bad replies to canceling or missed appointments because I have not had a car in 3 months. I have one. It is broken. Now, they say they will no longer write my meds until I show up for my appointment. I live 45 minutes from the clinic. I can’t walk that far. There is no public transportation her, nor is there a cab system available. We live in a rural area. I don’t even have a horse to get me there. I have taken the same meds for about 6 years now with no problems. The New doctor acts like I am a manipulative patient and obviously a liar. I have no history of manipulating the system. I have been, for some time, fighting to maintain patient rights of having some input into medical decisions that effect my own body only to be totally ignored. Now that the patient rights were altered to exclude patient input except to aid the doctor, we have no where to go.

  5. Paul says:

    I have used hydrocodone 10/325 for about 10 years and currently cut off as the VA runs around with their hair on fire trying to overdo compliance. Much of this came from Amy Goodman, aka Democracy Now. Who is she? She’s a left over from the antiwar movement people of the 60’s. In Nam from ’68-’70, I recall being painted as everything from a baby killer to drug freak after I got back. That all came from an orchestrated effort to punish Nam vet reputations. Now they’re doing it to new war vets! “they must all be weird in the head and druggies like their predecessors is the renewed message. Yes, some of my generation did “use” later as society itself turned to drugs. Heck, I only knew of 1 doper the whole time and he was sent back to CONUS for discharge in ’69. They say 270% increase OVER 10 YEARS!! The unspoken part is that new-era vets regained lost trust in the VA for a while and the number of enrollees swelled. Statistically, how many more vets were seeking care than before the “new” wars(s)started? My quality of life, productivity, and relationships improved after I started this course of pain management (no more than 4x day) and now I find that I’m back fighting anti-war hippies again after finding dignity and peace as I got older. Thanks DEA and VA. You had it right but now we must again suffer for transient, institutional political correctness. Bah!

    • jim says:

      hi i just replied to ray,i am in the same damn boat,and a lot of the decisions being made is (1) profiling,how many pain meds are you prescribed.(2) from that someone has developed a scale/chrt for a cut off on pain meds for vets,it is difficult to impossible to have any qulity of life with thier reduction of pain meds per month but, things for me aren’t getting better. trying to do psycial things around the house,i am finding myself getting mentally geared up for the task in hand and it is not getting done,after someone turns 50 things change, everything hurts alot more! vets need to somehow get together and organize and go before congress ,hope to hear back from you

  6. Ray says:

    I am a Vietnam PTSD disabled Vet. My pain medication that I have been taking for 15 years is being cut. My PTSD has not one thing to do with the physical pain issues I have. I have never abused, nor have taking more than prescribed. My pain issue’s,I will have for life,operations,theraphy,etc.. will not change this. At my age it allows me to function,bath,clean,cook,on and on. I do not get a buzz or high off my medication. So why is V.A. punishing all for the few bad, does not make any sense! We are being thrown in the same bucket for the abusers and what ever else the are doing with there pain medication. I personally will not live in pain for however many years of life I have-in which I hope is quite a number of many more years. Trust me I am not the only one that feels this way. There has been pain medication since the beginning of mankind. In other words what the HELL IS V.A. DOING TO US–TRYING TO INCREASE THE SUICIDE RATE! If I cannot take care of myself–BYE BYE–Thanks V.A. Best of Luck to all!

    • jim says:

      i understand exactly1!!! what you are saying. its happening to me and every time i spoke with nurses and providers i was lied to,from non cancer pain,testerone issues from tking the meds o when i am in my 90’s, also how there has been a “big mushroom” of,increased pain meds perscribed,well no shit we have beed at war for 10+ years,there has been a lots of military injuries! I THINK SOMEHOW THE VETS OF AMERICA NEED TO UNITE AND LET OUR VOICE BE HERD, especially pain meds it needs to be on a per vetern basis!.i hope to hear back from you

      • Steven P says:

        Start writing to the Senate and House Veteran Affairs Committee members as I’ve been doing. Let your voices be heard! If that doesn’t work then we need to show up in D.C. at their offices with the Press with us.
        None of us were asked to speak at these hearings but the overwhelming majority of Veterans have done what we were ordered to do with the promise that we’d be taken care of.
        People who are not in pain but in positions of power need to understand that making us hurt worse or killing us off will not end the issue. It doesn’t matter if they’re Democrat or Republican. This just breaks the system of the VA even more than before.

  7. Craig says:

    I was told today that my hydrocodone script was being cut off due to this insane nonsense. I have been taking opioids since 1989 for bilateral knee pain and lower back pain. My PCP told me I could check into a private pain mgmt clinic if I wanted meds or buy them off the street. I was told I was too overweight, 6’1″ 230lb. He also stated he didn’t want to be responsible if I drove and got into an accident and killed somebody while he was prescribing them to me. It’s all about the money. Once again the vets pay the price for this country’s freedom and neglected.

    • Linda says:

      My husband is being told these same things and that supposedly Congress has passed a new law just recently saying his and other vets pain meds are going to be cut off. Yet they are the only thing that make life bearable for him. Congress is supposedly suggesting that acupuncture and Yoga should be the replacement therapy. HA! He tried acupuncture years ago when he was nowhere near as in pain as he now is and it did him absolutely no good at all. Due to Spinal Cord Injury and surgeries, a bone on bone knee that needs replacement (that VA will not replace because of his high risk status, etc.) It is physically impossible for him to do Yoga so what in the world is supposed to control his pain? I have been unable to find this new “law” or how and to whom we need to address this ridiculous issue We have been told by VA doctors that this is a Nationwide law affecting ALL physicians both VA and civilian. If you or anyone else has that information, we would greatly appreciate it being posted. For vets or anyone else suffering something that will not require long term pain medication, this is one thing but for people who have pain all the time that is only lessened some by taking pain medications in higher doses, it is quite another! They are going to put them in a morgue if they actually do this! I agree 100% with you Craig! Doctors telling people to buy them off the streets? Well, isn’t that just about the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard other than the issue at hand!

      • Thomas McCormack says:

        I’m a veteran have been seance 2005been with the VA and have been telling Doctors that Hydrocodone does not work and they keep trying to prescribe Hydrocodone to me even when I’ve just told them it’s doesn’t work or help they try to convene me I’ve never given it a chance when I’ve taken for 2 years so I think I know if it was working or not they say they are honoring me by reliving my pain

  8. JUSTIN says:

    Question for all the Vets, I like you was told yesterday my script will no longer be filled after 7yrs and 4 doctors. No viable alternative to deal with the pain no help with withdrawls or side affects from the dependency so my question now is how many of your doctors are American citizens my new doctor is from India could barely communicate with me did not ask me one question about my pain my injury or why I have been taking the pain meds just said “we will no longer be refilling your pain med prescriptions”

  9. Robert says:

    This is why so many of us ends up buying drugs off the street. We give our lives for the USA and this is how we are treated. I am 64 and have a lot of pain, all of it comes from being in the Army and getting worse. Here it is 10:45 pm can’t sleep my pain is bad tonight, the VA took away my meds after 9 years, all I was taking hydrocodone , one at 6:00 and one at 3:00 just to move my body, I just can not believe they did this to US, I hope Trump will Man Up and stop this. Obama/Bush/Clinton told us to go to HELL. People might not like Trump but he said he was going to help us out like no other President did, it’s worth a chance . And no wonder so many vets drink.
    No wife, all my kids are gone. The only thing never left me is my PAIN.

  10. Bill Smith says:

    The problem with opioids is they do not treat long-term pain. Several studies show a lack of long-term efficacy. There is no study showing any long-term positive effects. The overdose numbers are not small. Opioids were not commonly prescribed for long term pain until the early 1990’s. Morphine was tried during and after the Civil War with the same problems as today. More pain, addiction, and overdose.

    Twice as many Americans have overdosed on opioids in the last ten years as died in the same ten-year stretch of the Vietnam War. Yes that is right opioids are a greater threat to Americans than the Viet Cong.

    The positive effects of opioids are nonexistent but the negative effects are certain. There is no such thing as “the right combination” If there was would you be complaing about your pain?

    I encourage all patients in pain to talk to their doctor. There are several treatments including physical therapy, chiropractor, acupuncture, pain injections, medications, and surgery.

    You will not get better by sitting at home and taking opioids. Multiple treatments not including opioids will be necessary to relieve your pain. You will have to do Physical Therapy in order to heal. Trying it a few times and complaining you hurt will not get your goals accomplished.

    You decide-Sit at home and take opioids or get proactive and work towards healing and getting better.

    Fact-Long-term opioid use leads to narcotic-induced hyperalgesia and decreased function of your body.

    • Abigail Engel says:

      Wow, my years of pain management proves you wrong. No One can really hope to be pain free, only pain management. Even though I have chronic pain, I walk up to ten miles a day three times a week. I stop and cry and stretch. I am overweight. I have not given up and become totally reliant on opiates even though I have successfully managed my pain with vicodin 5/325, cyclobanzaprin, cymbalta. I asked my pain management doctor to decrease my meds in the beginning because I did not want to max out any options should I, God forbid, break my leg. No medical study can speak for ALL people across the board. I am well educated and never failed a drug test, misuse or sold my meds. I need them too much. I have no options. I am sorry if my pain offends you. You do not know the situation of everyone. I need to go before I … Stupidity! Charlie Brown said it all. AHHHHH!

    • Navy wife says:

      Go to h___.My husband is an incomplete spinal cord injury patient and one good Dr at the VA finally got him on the right med’s and the right dose. He was finally getting some sort of a life back and that has been taken away by some idiot Dr. at the VA. Sorry buddy back to living curled up in a ball of pain unable to do anything or go anywhere. So your comment is trash. I hope to God you or your loved one has to go thru this every single day , every minute. Then come back and talk to me and everyone else who is not abusing anything, or selling anything. Why dont you get proactive and educate yourself by spending a day with one of these Vets.

    • Roy Davis says:

      Be advised your comments are at best poorly informed and narrow in scope. First and foremost, I am seventy three yrs of age and used to exercise vigorously well into my 60s. My body was so well coordinated that one foreman saw the way I worked and commented, “Roy I wish I had eight more just like you”. I eventually took a job working on a ship(@ $1,350.00 a week) and started developing severe back pains. Immediately after we returned to port, I went on sick call. The Doctor had x-rays taken and stated, “you have DEGENERATIVE JOINT DISEASE AND I RECOMMEND YOU FIND A NEW LINE OF WORK” end of quote. During my employment at the DOD, my conditions were getting worse and had to turn down an over seas promotion which led me into very serious depression because the whole idea of turning down a promotion is abhorrent to me Eventually, I had to have two(2) hip replacements due to bones were beginning to fragment affecting certain nerves. It doesn’t stop there. My degenerative condition began to accelerate through out my entire body. I now have both Degenerative Joint Disease/Rotator Cups and Knee Caps + Degenerative Disc Disease/Cervical & Lumbar + L3 & L4.

      Each and every time I visit my doctor it is like I am giving her a very detailed report so she firmly understands my conditions. I INFORMED HER, “AT MY AGE, SURGERYS IS NOT A OPTION DUE TO THE COST + IT IS NOT WORTH THE INVESTMENT AT AGE 72 SOON TO BE 73.


      I am a decorated veteran (E7/SFC)and had the privilege of working under some of the best high ranking officers up to the rank Three Star General and Non-Commissioned Officers (E9/SMJ)with comments IN MY NCOERs(NON-COMMISSIONED OFFICER’S EVALUATION REPORT) stating that I was considered highly intelligent with strong TO SUPERIOR analytical skills.




      PATIENTS NEED TO BE PROPERLY CATORGORIZED with age being an important factor when it comes to degenerative bones diseases.


    • Tracey says:

      Bill, if opioids do “not work” for long-term pain, then how on earth could I continue taking the same pain medication with no changes for over 10 years? How on earth could my dad continue taking the same pain medication with no changes for over 30 years? I know many people who are stable and functioning to the best of their ability because the medication they have taken for many years, decades, reduce their pain to a tolerable level and allow them to have some semblance of a life.

      The medication I have been taking reduces my pain just enough so that I am able to work, exercise, stretch, sleep, take care of my family, my home, my yard, my fur-babies and actually enjoy life. I have already tried everything you mentioned and more. None of us expect to be 100% pain free. Get off your high horse and learn to think for yourself instead of repeating what your government and all the talking heads on tv tell you.

      FACT – There have been very few studies done on the effects long-term opioid therapy. In fact, some of those among those very few studies indicate benefits to it (which when one applies common sense to this entire subject, it makes sense). Hundreds of thousands of chronic painers are EVIDENCE that long-term opioid therapy can be beneficial to some.

      Just curious how in the world do you expect someone to participate in physical therapy when they’re IN TOO MUCH PAIN to even get out of bed? Or are you just one of those who has never felt severe pain? Perhaps you’re one of those who literally has no clue as to how a lifetime of untreated or undertreated severe pain affects a human. This is a sick game that our government is playing. It’s causing human beings in constant, severe pain to either self-medicate with potentially harmful substances, including large amounts of alcohol and/or substances on the black market or take their own lives because they can truly no longer stand the pain.

      Also, I find it a tad bit ironic that alcohol contributes to over 100,000 deaths each year in this country and all we hear are *crickets* Tobacco? It contributes to over 480,000 deaths annually in this country. *crickets* Two LEGAL substances WITH NO MEDICINAL VALUE WHATSOEVER contributes to almost 600,000 deaths each year in this country … Where’s the outrage and cries for stricter regulations or outright bans on these two substances? Oh, wait, I almost forgot – these two substances are great forms of revenue for our local, state and federal governments, as they are both taxed at higher rates (aka sin tax). Double standard? Yep. Hypocrisy? Yep.

  11. Katherine says:

    As an NP in a state where hydrocodone is the #2 prescribed med in the state, I favor a revision in our practices as a country. Our community is flooded w lortab. Opiates are falling out of favor, because they kill people. Half of overdose deaths occur in a person that was never prescribed the offending medicine. At my clinic, this is a case by case decision, and veterans are not taken off of their pain medicines unless illegal substances are found in drug screening or evidence of misuse of the med exists.

  12. Frank Oliveras says:

    The biggest issue I see with having VA decrease over prescription of Opioids is they do not have a back up plan to wean off Veterans who have been taking this (and like) medication for a prolonged period of time. I was told when I requested a refill 2 years ago was “we are not refilling it anymore”… No taper off, just cold turkey and go figure out how to deal with withdrawals. When I asked them for options, my Primary Care Physician just requested a toxicology report… Nothing more… Having worked for the VA I can tell you there are some individuals who really care and try to go above and beyond for their patients just to be rewarded with negativity. Unfortunately, the system is designed to react to failures not to prevent them.

  13. Rob says:

    Now tell me what they do for degenerative dis disease? Caused by HCV which I got as a present for helping wounded vets. After 20 years or so they plan to take me off all my pain medication. Like it is ever going to improve. What part of degenerative do they not understand? No amount of P/T is going to work we started with that. I suppose a wheelchair then being put away until in some corner of a VA home then wait you expire is the option they want to see happen.

  14. Guy Delahoussaye says:

    I have been on pain medication for many years at the VA in Biloxi,Ms.. I had to sign a form stating I would not get medication elsewhere or I would be cut off from the VA system. It is of my belief I HAVE BEEN CUT OFF and I am presently going through withdrawl, it’s getting worse. I don’t know what to do other than seek relief by breaking the law if need be. I have been requiered to give urine tests to see if the medicine is in my system at the right dosage. I have not overdosed yet. When taking my meds, I can move more without interruption but now the cramps are within me. The night sweats and the aggitation is an everyday occurrance. I believe their long term goal is having this, “EFFECTS OF GOING OFF PAIN KILLERS COLD TURKEY, TO AID IN THE REDUCTION OF PAIN MEDICATION USAGE AND PAYOUT, CLINICAL TRIAL”, will someday come back to haunt them. It will be the VA that is responsible for the suicides of those they are TREATING so harshly.
    As far as Congress and the Speaker, THEY ARE NOT DOCTORS and should not get involved or between a patient and their doctor!

  15. Irma says:

    I live in el paso tex, and my husband is going through the same thing they took away his pain meds, because he had a Dr that was giving him his pain meds, and his Dr left, so they gave him another dr,a Dr that decided to play with his pain, and wouldn’t send his pain meds,then he decided to lower his pain meds,and then they took it away from him, with out a warning, so now he is going through a lot of pain, he has pain in his back, pain in his knees, cause he needs two knee replacements, and they told him that they were going to put shots in his back, and they did,well they put the shots on him, but now he is suffring even more, those shot really hurt him more they made his back pain worse, and he dosent have nothing for pain, I see him go through a lot and there is nothing I can do, I wish somthing gets better, cause what they are doing to these veteran isn’t right, they need their pain meds back, so they won’t suffer.

  16. Steve D says:

    I am currently being tapered down to a third of the daily dosage I had been on for 6 years. This is what I’ve learned; the VA has succumbed to legislative pressure and rolled out the OSI Opioid Safety Initiative. A Pain Management doc reviews our opioid meds and converts it to an equivalent morphine dosage. This is called an MED. Then he decides who gets cut off or reduced. Everyone will eventually be under 100 MED. Those of us who were on low doses are being cut off completely. The VA no longer considers pain as the sixth vital sign. Reduction of prescribed opioids is the VA’s only concern. We are and have always been just a statistic.

  17. Steven P says:

    When I was given Harvoni for the treatment of Hepatitis C and it worked I was walking 2 miles daily. But for the combat that I gladly did for this Country in Vietnam, I am now being blamed for taking 572mg. of Morhine daily along with 90 mg of Clonazepam and 30 mg Temazepam. I was seen and prescribed this by not only my Primary Physician in Florida, but by the Psychiatrist at the VA there since 2001. Then since I moved to Montana I was given the same amount of pills, but wasn’t seen by a Primary Physician for almost 2 years and I am 100% disabled (80% due to inability to work)
    Bill Smith I don’t know if you’re a Vet or not but you sound like my Doctor who never served a day in the Military. I found that I get the best service and help from those Doctors and or nurses who did see combat and not from stiffs like yourself. And btw, if I die from drugs then it’s my time to go. You are full of it if you say that more Veterans have died from drugs than from a VC bullet. Did you ever get shot at? I did and as a result of that I’m now told by a Civilian Doctor that he refuses to operate on me because of the amount of resistance that my body has gone through since I first started taking them in 2001. Now I was over in Vietnam in 1969 and for years my body could take the pain. I spent 29 years total (21 1/2 years active) but the pain became too much for me to handle. I retired from the Military in May of 1997, and was in a car crash that killed my youngest daughter sitting next to me. I was tboned by a truck doing 70 mph. My Daughter was eventually brought back to life but was dead over 6 minutes of time and suffers from it now as an adult of 31. It wasn’t until I could no longer get out of bed and lost a job because of it that I reached out for help. I found I was able to resume a fairly normal life. I’ve had 3 right knee operations and was told by the head of orthopedics at this Florida VA “Do not come to me for a knee replacement until you’re crawling.” I did what I was told and now I’m the one paying the price for what I followed. All 7 of my cervical discs and my thorax and lumbar area are damaged from combat and I need to have both shoulders and both knees replaced now that I’m 66 years old. But I live alone and have no one to help. That doesn’t matter now because Doctors now see pills as the real danger. Well Bill, take my body for one day. I’m down to 180mg Morphine and 4mg of Clonazepam. I am also bed ridden again. life is not black and white, but if you’re a Veteran and in worse shape than me and are pain free or able to handle the pain then you’ve been given a gift I don’t have. People like yourself would rather see me rot in bed than resuming a fairly normal life? You have no idea and no heart. Still I wouldn’t wish one day of what we go through on you.

  18. Gunny G USMC says:

    Please stop!
    This is actually causing veterans who have been legitimate and done everything to act responsibly to now suffer. Some will undoubtedly have no choice but to self medicate and the problems will undoubtedly get worse. Suicides will also increase.

    Honorable Mr. Obama,
    Please don’t sign this new veterans bill regarding pain management without thorough examination.
    Veterans could suffer.

    To the legislature, Why didn’t you just address the problem at Tomah? I know this knee jerk was good intentioned but the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Why didn’t you address in patient care where all personal responsibility is lost and you can’t research drug interactions. I spent over 22 years and retired a GySgt USMC. I have many veteran friends and we help one another. Some have lost limbs and are crippled up. Because someone not inpatient abuses drugs and heroin addicts score and shoot up in an alley means that you are going to make it harder for veterans who need legitimate pain relief and make physicians hesitant to help veterans relieve their pain? Will it save lives. What kind of life is it when a veteran is too crippled up in pain to go out and mow his lawn? Please stop! You are making those of us who are being responsible and need legitimate help, suffer.

    I say this with all due respect,
    Semper Fidelis,
    Very Respectfully,

    Gunny G USMC (ret.)

  19. scooter says:

    I’ve been dependent on opioids for the past 15 years to deal with chronic, severe joint pain. The new “opinion” is that opioids don’t really work for chronic pain. This opinion obviously comes from people who do not suffer severe chronic pain. The SSRI medications and anticonvulsant medications they now push for chronic pain are completely worthless, at least for myself, and cause unbearable side effects. Clinical studies show they work no better than placebos. If Dr’s are to take patients off of opioids that work for pain, and they cannot offer an equally effective pain reliever, then they should be held liable for substandard pain management. A few high dollar lawsuits would likely change the barbaric denial of effective pain relief for those who really need it.

  20. Steven P says:

    I wrote an email to POTUS.Even though I never voted for him I’m honored that at least he replied, but it wasn’t what any of us want to hear:

    Thank you for writing, and for your service to our country. I’ve heard from many Americans about the prescription opioid misuse and heroin epidemic, and I appreciate your perspective. We cannot address this problem by simply telling doctors not to overprescribe without providing some mechanisms for relieving the pain that is real for too many people. We need to address opioid use disorders and overdose, while also ensuring that individuals with pain receive safe, effective treatment.

    The prescribing of powerful opioid medications has skyrocketed in recent decades, and the misuse of these drugs is a risk factor for heroin use. Eighty percent of new heroin users have previously misused legal prescription opioid drugs, and the majority of fatal overdoses in America involve legal prescription drugs. Behind these stunning statistics is the pain of parents and children, siblings and friends who intimately understand that this crisis is taking lives, damaging families, and affecting communities across our country.

    My Administration has aggressively worked to curb the flow of illegal drugs into our country, but we recognize that this epidemic will not end if our society does not also fight the stigma faced by people with substance use disorders and ensure they can get the treatment they need. Substance use disorders can and must be treated like other chronic illnesses, and that is why I have supported and expanded community-based efforts to prevent drug use and pursue smarter approaches to drug enforcement. It is also why we are working to increase access to treatment, reduce overdose deaths, improve prescribing practices for opioid pain medicines, and support the millions of Americans in recovery.

    Last year, I issued a Presidential Memorandum to help ensure that Federal health care professionals are properly trained in prescribing opioids. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a new guideline for prescribing opioids for chronic pain that discusses the use of non-opioid treatment options, because long-term opioid use may not always be effective at treating chronic pain. The guideline should help health care providers make informed decisions about the use of opioids without preventing doctors from prescribing necessary treatments.

    We all have a role to play in ending the opioid epidemic, and I will keep working to prevent the heartbreaking losses experienced by too many. I will also do everything in my power to help all Americans receive the quality, affordable health care they need. For more information, please visit http://www.HHS.gov/Opioids.


    Barack Obama

    So there’s your answer and there’s my answer too. Don’t know if Trump would do any different either, cause he’s no Vet nor is the other one.
    The VA giveth, and the VA taketh away. Cursed it the name of the VA. Blessed be the name of The LORD!
    Just had some minor surgery done yesterday and they had to use drugs to put me out. Best sleep I’ve had in months! Don’t think it’s going to change, but I’m not looking forward to being bed ridden the rest of my life. I’ve written to the heads of both the Senate and the Congressional Veterans Affairs Committee’s and the Senate head Jonny Isakson (R)Georgia, who told me to get in touch with my Senator Tester (D) in Montana. Tester said “There’s nothing we can do for you.” Little did I know that he was one of the members of the Senate Committee who voted for this insane law, and I’ve chastised both of them for not amending the law to help those of us who are going to die in pain. NO REPLY!
    Unless the Veterans and the families who have been affected by this law organize and get the word out that this is not right nothing further will happen.
    The suicide rates have gone up and the press says it’s because of PTSD. Maybe, but I’ve been in a lot of columns and seen guys who said they were going to kill themselves or go get street drugs. That’s not going to accomplish anything. Unless we organize and take our side of the story to the Press, neighbors, sign petitions and be willing to peacefully demonstrate in Washington D.C. or at least at our local VA’s NOTHING WILL HAPPEN, except that more of us will die in pain. Gunny I fought in Vietnam and put up with the pain as long as I could, and if I am refused operations because I’ve been on pain killers too long, I believe it’s a righteous endeavor. At this point I would even work with my PCP on something lower than what I was taking but higher than what I’m on now, but when people like these get power they don’t want to let go of it easily. We fought for our Country but people on welfare get treated better than we do. No urine tests, just a handout of $. But if we remain quite and just complain on places such as this nothing will change.

  21. Mike Jarrett says:

    In 2015 I was basically ordered to go to the chronic pain clinic to participate in the OSI (opioid safety initiative) which was ordered by congress passing the law directing VA to enact this program to get veterans off of the opioids. When I went into the clinic for the orientation I was told that I either participate or the meds would be taken away and I would not be seen by my PCPagain. I was sent for acupuncture as part of what VA calls CAM program which was an outright total joke to put it mildly. The back massages helped with the muscle spasms I got quite often. During this time my opoids were being reduced and I went along because I felt I had to because of what I was told going in. Needless to say I was in more pain when I left the program than when I went in. I am still in a lot of pain and do not know what to do now. I am so confused and pissed off at VA.

  22. Dani D says:

    My husband has been addicted to opiodes for 7 yrs now. He does NOT take them the way he should ( up the nose) he is scary on them. He gets 240 oxy’s and they are gone within 6 days. I realize there are people who truly use the correctly. Some dont. He has made our family life horrible. We have 4 boy’s and them seeing their father go down this spiral hurts more than you know. Families need help too.

  23. ricky king says:

    Yes, the politicians do not think we are stupid they are blatantly not giving veterans medication because they want the power to control. If Mr. Trump meant what he said about making veterans health a number 1 priority I would like for him to address this problem now, on Fox News. Because he is right the main stream media just tell the lies about this problem. We hurt and they know it and you will hurt only so long and alcohol is the only thing that is legal. Where are the people who think so much of veterans now when we need their support. Mr. Trump appeal this law now along with the Obama care.

  24. Larry says:

    my thoughts EXACTLY about the VA cutting me off my pain meds..they MUST want us dead…that’s the ONLY explanation for it, as after YEARS of methadone 3xday and hydrocodone for breakthrough and NO longer take 12 oxycodone per day but THAT’S NOT good enough for them. .I am getting to the point where I HATE LIFE. ..I’m miserable. ..I have medevaced 8,794 patients with only about 5 percent being friendly yet get SHOT out of the sky…why, OH,WHY did I serve this country?

  25. Ed Raynes says:

    I am a 64 year old vet. I had a near fatal auto accident when I was 20 years old on leave. One of the injuries was severe damage to my lower back, which I was able to manage with other methods until I turned 55 when the pain became unbearable almost every day. This is exactely what the doctors told me would happen when I got older. So, because the VA will not give me any pain meds. They said that because I take Clonzepam for bad PTSD taking any opiod would kill me. So i went to an outside Doctor for small dosage of morphine. It allows me to live a fairly normal life. Every outside doctors I talked to said the the only problem with mixing these drugs could cause exreme drowsines, but killing was outrages. Thanks for my service in Vietnam.

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