VA’s Fails to Follow Own Requirements for New Hire Drug Testing

By Sandra Basu

WASHINGTON VA is “committed to 100% testing of all final selectees” for its safety-sensitive occupations prior to their appointment, lawmakers were told recently.

In addition, the agency is working to ensure that drug checks at medical facilities are performed and follow all requirements, according to VHA Deputy Undersecretary for Health for Organizational Excellence Carolyn Clancy, MD.

Clancy made her comments at a hearing held by a House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs subcommittee in late February that assessed VA’s risks for drug diversion.

The hearing was held in the wake of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that found a failure by the VA to conduct required monthly inspections of facilities that house controlled substances and to always follow VHA inspection requirements when the inspections are performed.

Referring to recent news reports, Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Jack Bergman (R-MI) said “in case after case, what we see are examples of drugs being diverted for personal use or personal gain, yet there does not seem to be much progress being made by VA to correct the glaring problems that allow it to happen.”

Bergman said that issues of drug diversion “are in part a result of VA having inadequate procedures in place to safeguard against theft and diversion of controlled substances.” 

 

Monthly Investigations

GAO Director of Healthcare Randall Williamson told lawmakers that VHA requires medical facilities to conduct monthly inspections that follow procedures outlined by VA. GAO found in a review of four medical facilities it conducted from January 2015 to February 2016, however, that the oversight was inconsistent.  

            Williamson told lawmakers that he estimated that, overall, as few as 10% to 15% of VA facilities nationwide are following agency inspection procedures, making them vulnerable to drug diversion.

            Meanwhile, Nicholas Dahl, VA OIG Deputy Assistant Inspector General for Audits and Evaluations, explained that, in recent years, his department has reported that VA facilities did not always comply with its own policy to drug-test applicants prior to appointment.

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  1. Andrew J Breuder, MD, MPH, FACPM, CPE says:

    This report doesn’t surprise me. I retired in July 2015 as the Chief of Staff from the Manchester, NH VAMC, but for most of my VA time from 2000-2015 I had an additional duty of being the MRO for most of VISN 1 and was an unofficial consultant for MRO activities for many years since 2004 until the VA finally appointed a full time MRO in Central Office around 2012. From 2004 to 2012, I presented information on national VA drug testing results, obtained from data provided by HR in Central Office, at the annual Occupational Medicine conferences. Random drug testing rates went from about 3% annually in 2004 up to around 7% by 2012 or 2013. Even though I interpreted the initial testing requirements for TDP’s as 100%, in reality it probably never exceeded 33%, and this was the guidance I had received from HR when I questioned them about this.

    In addition, one of the VAMC’s in VISN 1 that I provided MRO services to, very often went for months without doing any new employee or random drug testing. I notified the Director and COS at the facility several times, and this only generated brief bursts of activity. To my knowledge, this has been a long standing issue and I’m surprised that the VA is just becoming aware of this now.

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