Chairman Filner, Ranking Member Buyer, and members of the House
Veterans' Affairs Committee, Vietnam Veterans of America (WA) would
like to submit the following for the record concerning the subject
of today's hearing.
It is an indisputable fact that far too many veterans, particularly
those who have
experienced combat and those who have seen the broken bodies of buddies
bullets and shrapnel, are addicted to nicotine. Smoking is responsible
for causing or
exacerbating an array of chronic and often fatal illnesses, including
lung cancer, heart
disease, and emphysema. Simply put, this insidious addiction kills
tens of thousands of veterans every year.
That the Department of Veterans Affairs has elected to conduct studies
into potentially effective drug interventions to help veterans overcome
their dependence on tobacco is important. It is laudable. What is
not laudable, however, is the VA's violation of its own research
protocols on the use of human subjects in medical research. This
is not a new problem for the VA; it has become a bureaucratic nightmare
over the past several years.
As credible media reports have made increasingly clear, alerts by
VA researchers and officials to veterans involved in the smoking
cessation studies of Chantix (varenicline) concerning severe psychotic
side effects among some test subjects lagged, to put it
mildly. VA officials have acknowledged that they knew of these severe
side effects up to a year before they bothered to issue any public
Basic common sense as well as institutional protocols would dictate
that when testing a drug like Chantix - or any drug that affects
brain chemistry - on veterans with post-
traumatic stress disorder or other mental disorders, this should
be, this must be, done
under close supervision. Basic common sense would dictate, too, that
manufacturer of a drug issues a warning that suicidal thoughts and
behavior are potential side effects of a drug, a warning that is
reiterated soon thereafter
by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), that VA researchers notify
Unfortunately, common sense is often in short supply at the VA.
It is our hope that any misfeasance on the part of VA officials
will not adversely affect the emphasis that must be placed on prevention
to reduce the incidence of chronic illness among veterans. It is
our hope that the potential benefits of Chantix do not get trashed
because of the VA's failure to communicate. We say this because we
know of some of the successes of this drug. We know of one veteran,
a Marine who served honorably and bravely in Vietnam, who was wounded
in action, who smoked almost incessantly for 47 years, yet who was
able to quit smoking less than three weeks after beginning a
regimen of Chantix. We know of another veteran who has tried the
patch, to no avail; Chantix, for him, represents potential salvation
from the straitjacket of nicotine addiction.
It is our hope that the VA will renew its commitment to promulgating
necessary for the safe conduct of experiments on human subjects -
on veterans who are deserving of their faith and best efforts. It
is our hope, too, that Congress will not, in a rush to judgment,
damn a drug with great potential for good.
Thomas J. Berger, Ph.D.
Dr. Tom Berger is a Life Member of Vietnam Veterans of America
(VVA) and founding member of VVA Chapter 317 in Kansas City, Missouri.
He currently serves as National Chair of VVA's PTSD and Substance
Abuse Committee, and has recently been named
Senior Analyst for Veterans Benefits & Mental Health Issues.
He is a member and Chair of the Veterans Health Administration's
(VHA) Consumer Liaison Council for the
Committee on Care of Veterans with Serious Mental Illness (SMI
Executive Committee of the Mental Health Quality Enhancement Research
Depression Work Group (MHQUERI), and the South Central Mental Illness
and Education Clinical Center (SC MIRECC).
In addition, Dr. Berger holds the distinction of
being the first representative of a national veterans' service
organization to hold membership on the VHA's Executive Committee
of the Substance Use Disorder Quality Enhancement Research Initiative
(SUD QUERI). He also serves as a member of the National Leadership
Forum for Behavioral Health and Criminal Justice Services with
the CMHS National GAINS Center, the National Steering Committee
of the CMHS National Center for Trauma-Informed Care and as a reviewer
of research proposals for DoD's "Congressionally Directed
Medical Research Programs".
He is a member of VVA's national
Health Care, Government Affairs, Agent Orange and Toxic Substances
and Women Veterans committees.
Dr. Berger served as a Navy Corpsman with the 3rd Marine Division
in Vietnam, 1967-
68. Following his military service and upon the subsequent completion
of his post-
doctoral studies, he has held faculty and administrative appointments
at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, the State University System
of Florida in Tallahassee, and the
University of Missouri-Columbia, as well as program administrator
positions with the Illinois Easter Seal Society and United Cerebral
Palsy of Northwest Missouri. His
professional publications include books and research articles in
the biological sciences, wildlife regulatory law, adolescent risk
behaviors, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Dr. Berger now devotes his efforts full-time to veterans' advocacy
at the local, state and national levels on behalf of Vietnam Veterans
of America. He presently resides in
Columbia, Missouri, and his hobbies are cycling, music, cooking,
VIETNAM VETERANS of AMERICA
July 9, 2008
The national organization Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) is a
non-profit veterans' membership organization registered as a 501(c)(19)
with the Internal Revenue Service. VVA is also appropriately registered
with the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Representatives
in compliance with the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995.
VVA is not currently in receipt of any federal grant or contract,
other than the routine allocation of office space and associated
resources in VA facilities for outreach and direct services through
its Veterans Benefits Program (Service Officers). This is also true
of the previous two fiscal years.
For further information, contact:
Director of Government Relations
Vietnam Veterans of America
(301) 585-4000 ext. 127