- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A Veterans Affairs hospital in West Virginia put patients at risk by substituting antipsychotic drugs with older medication to cut costs, the Office of Special Counsel said Wednesday.

The actions by the Beckley West Virginia Veterans Affairs Medical Center, which were reported by a whistleblower and substantiated by the VA Office of the Medical Inspector, violate VA policy, which prohibits VA providers from withholding prescribed medications to save money.

“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,” said Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner. “We only know this was happening because an employee had the courage to blow the whistle on this dangerous practice.”

The investigation found that whenever providers at the Beckley medical center prescribed antipsychotic drugs such as ariprazole or ziprasidone, the pharmacy mandated that they instead use older, less expensive drugs to meet a fiscal 2013 cost-savings goal, which “may have constituted a substantial and specific danger to public health and safely.”

Providers worried about side effects of the older drugs, like weight gain or sedation, but told investigators they felt they had no other choice but to prescribe them, the report said.

The OMI recommended that the medical center leadership be disciplined. It also called for a report by May 11 on if any patient’s care suffered because of the switch to older medication.

The OSC sent a letter Wednesday to President Obama informing him of its findings.

The VA scandal emerged in the national spotlight last year when a whistleblower in Phoenix alleged that veterans were dying while waiting for care on a secret list. Since then, further investigations have discovered coverups and problems with care throughout the country, as well as retaliation against those who report it.

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