Continued from page 1

“The VA is doing everything they can to be mindful of the safety of these veterans in all their programs and try to help them. This is the [VA], under wonderful leadership by [Secretary James B. Peake], who is interested in the health and safety of these veterans that are under his care, and every other member of that VA system is the same,” White House spokesman Tony Fratto said.

“These are people who care for our veterans. They care for the troops that have been out there every day, fighting for this country. And they’re interested in their safety,” he said. “Remember, this is a program dealing with former soldiers with PTSD. And it’s a smoking-cessation program. And they’re interested in helping these veterans. So that’s my reaction to it.”

Nearly 1,000 veterans with PTSD were enrolled in the VA study to test methods of ending smoking, with 143 using Chantix. Twenty-one veterans reported adverse effects from the drug, including one who suffered suicidal thoughts, a three-month investigation by The Times and ABC News found.

“I was very concerned to read this morning’s Washington Times and learn that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has yet again failed to take appropriate steps to safeguard the health and well-being of veterans participating in drug trials,” Mr. Obama said in a letter Tuesday to Mr. Peake.

Mr. Obama cited a Government Accountability Office investigation of VA health care in Los Angeles that resulted in the suspension of all human testing because of numerous problems, including “failures to provide adequate information to subjects before they participated in research.”

“Accordingly, I call on you to conduct a full and thorough investigation of the process by which VA conducts clinical trials and to take immediate corrective action to address the problems that were first identified by GAO eight years ago,” he said in the letter.

Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also requested that Mr. Peake review the studies and identify everyone involved, as well as provide care “to any veterans who have undergone this testing and ensure that any unethical practices are immediately brought to a halt.”

“Our wounded troops and veterans deserve the very best in care, but unfortunately, recent studies and incidents illustrate that some VA services have failed to live up to the standard of excellence that is expected,” Mr. Cornyn said.

In addition, Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel K. Akaka said his panel will question the ethics of the clinical trial involving the drug Chantix.

“The suggestion that VA researchers are not properly informing veterans about possible risks is troubling and deserves further investigation,” the Hawaii Democrat said.

Sen. Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, ranking Republican on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, also is questioning the VA clinical trial - in particular the timing of notification to study participants.

“VA should make every effort to quickly inform participants of any new drug information,” Burr spokesman Mark Williams said.

Added Kevin Bishop, spokesman for Sen. Lindsay Graham, South Carolina Republican: “Advances in medicine should not come at the expense of our troops.”

Stephen Dinan and Jon Ward contributed to this report.

• To read the full investigation, click here.

Story Continues →