Congress: Stop Drug Testing on Vets Now and Investigate

Veterans groups are also calling for an immediate suspension of the tests.

ByABC News
June 18, 2008, 12:08 PM

June 18, 2008 — -- At least three more members of Congress are calling for an immediate suspension of government tests on veterans involving an anti-smoking drug that has been linked to suicide.

"Nearly 40 suicides and more than 400 incidents of suicidal behavior have been linked to Chantix, yet the VA has chosen to continue the study and administer Chantix to veterans with PTSD," said Congressman Bob Filner (D-CA).

"The VA must immediately suspend this study until a comprehensive review of the safety of the protocol is conducted," said Rep. Filner.

Rep. Filner along with Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Paul Hodes (D-NH) sent a letter to the Secretary of Veterans' Affairs today expressing their concern over the ABC News report and asking, among other things, for copies of consent and notification forms related to the study.

"Allowing, even encouraging, military veterans who have already made enormous sacrifices for our country to participate in drug studies that may cause serious, long-lasting health effects is tantamount to breaking our national promise to honor and support our veterans," said Rep. Markey today.

Yesterday, a report on Good Morning America revealed that mentally distressed veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are being recruited for government tests on pharmaceutical drugs linked to suicide and other violent side effects. The report was the result of a joint investigation by ABC News and The Washington Times.

In one of the human experiments, involving the anti-smoking drug Chantix, Veterans Administration doctors waited more than three months before warning veterans about the possible serious side effects of Chantix, including suicide and neuropsychiatric behavior.

"Lab rat, guinea pig, disposable hero," said former US Army sniper James Elliott in describing how he felt he was betrayed by the Veterans Administration.

Elliott, 38, of suburban Washington, D.C., was recruited, at $30 a month, for the Chantix anti-smoking study three years after being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He served a 15-month tour of duty in Iraq from 2003-2004.

Months after he began taking the drug, Elliott suffered a mental breakdown, experiencing a relapse of Iraq combat nightmares he blames on Chantix.

Veterans groups are also expressing their anger over the study.

Veterans groups are also expressing their anger over the study and are also calling for the studies to be ceased and for an investigation.

"Our nation's veterans are not guinea pigs," said Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. "It is unacceptable for even one veteran to have been misled about the possible side effects of Chantix."

The executive director of Veterans for Commons Sense said that this is yet another example of the VA failing America's veterans.

"VA should have done a better job protecting the human rights of our veterans," said Paul Sullivan of VCS.

"While VCS supports research to assist veterans, VA must bear a heavy burden of responsibility with these experiments on veterans diagnosed with PTSD," said Sullivan, who is also calling for an immediate suspension of the study.