A Veterans Affairs hospital in West Virginia switched out patients’ prescribed medications with older drugs to cut costs, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) announced in a letter to Congress and the White House Wednesday.
The Beckley, West Virginia, Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) substituted prescribed antipsychotic medications with older drugs as a cost-savings measure. The practice violated VA policy and posed a public health risk, the OSC said in a press release.
A VA whistleblower first disclosed the allegations to the OSC, an independent federal agency that handles claims of whistleblower retaliation and improper personnel practices. The allegations were confirmed by an internal VA investigation.
The investigation found that the hospital’s actions posed "a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety."
The investigation also found that hospital’s pharmacy and therapeutics committee was chaired by a non-physician, another departure from VA policy.
"At a time when many veterans are grappling with mental health issues, this VA facility was cutting corners on needed drug therapy to save money in violation of VA policy," Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner said in a press release. "We only know this was happening because an employee had the courage to blow the whistle on this dangerous practice."
Recent news reports and investigations have put a spotlight on the VA’s handling of mental health issues, specifically patients at risk for suicide.
A March report by the Veteran’s Affairs Inspector General found a Hampton VA hospital failed to flag a patient as a suicide risk, despite the patient disclosing suicidal thoughts to both emergency room doctors and the hospital’s mental health clinic. The patient was found dead shortly after of an apparent accidental overdose.
A federal investigation also is under way to determine whether the VA did enough to treat a Des Moines veteran who committed suicide after seeking treatment.
A December review by the Washington Free Beacon of thousands of errors and lapses in treatment at VA hospitals nationwide over the past few years found several similar instances where hospital staff failed to follow up on suicide concerns reported by veterans and their families, sometimes with fatal consequences.