They recruited doctors, set them up in private “Pain Foundations,” and paid them handsomely to give lectures and interviews, write studies and textbooks, teach classes in medical schools, and testify before Congress on the importance of providing our veterans with powerful painkillers.  In 2002, the Food and Drug Administration considered restricting the use of opioids, fearing they might be addictive. They were talked out of it by experts like Dr. Rollin Gallagher of the American Academy of Pain Medicine and board member of the American Pain Foundation, both largely funded by the drug companies. He spoke against restricting OxyContin.

By 2008, congressional legislation had been written — the Veterans’ Mental Health and Other Care Improvement Act — directing the VA to develop a plan to evaluate all patients for pain. When the VA objected to Congress dictating its medical procedures, Big Pharma launched a “Freedom from Pain” media blitz, enlisting veterans’ organizations to campaign for the bill and get it passed.

Those painkillers were also dispatched to the war zones where our troops were physically breaking down under the weight of the equipment they carried. By 2010, a third of the Army’s soldiers were on prescription medications — and nearly half of them, 76,500, were on prescription opioids — which proved to be highly addictive, despite the assurance of experts like Rollin Gallagher. In 2007, for instance, “The American Veterans and Service Members Survival Guide,” distributed by the American Pain Foundation and edited by Gallagher, offered this assurance: “[W]hen used for medical purposes and under the guidance of a skilled health-care provider, the risk of addiction from opioid pain medication is very low.”

By that time, here at home, soldiers and vets were dying at astonishing rates from accidental or deliberate overdoses. Civilian doctors as well had been persuaded to overprescribe these drugs, so that by 2011 the CDC announced a national epidemic, affecting more than 12 million Americans.  In May 2012, the Senate Finance Committee finally initiated an investigation into the perhaps “improper relation” between Big Pharma and the pain foundations. That investigation is still “ongoing,” which means that no information about it can yet be revealed to the public.

Meanwhile, opioid addicts, both veterans and civilians, were discovering that heroin was a cheaper and no less effective way to go.  Because heroin is often cut with Fentanyl, a more powerful opioid, however, drug deaths rose dramatically.

This epidemic of death is in the news almost every day now as hard-hit cities and states sue the drug makers, but rarely is it traced to its launching pad: the Big Pharma conspiracy to make big bucks off our country’s wounded soldiers.

It took the VA far too long to extricate itself from medical policies marketed by Big Pharma and, in effect, prescribed by Congress. It had made the mistake of turning to the Pharma-funded pain foundations in 2004 to select its Deputy National Program Director of Pain Management: the ubiquitous Dr. Gallagher. But when the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency finally laid down new restrictive rules on opioids in 2014, the VA had to comply. That’s been hard on the thousands of opioid-dependent vets it had unwittingly hooked, and it’s becoming harder as Republicans in Congress move to privatize the VA and send vets out with vouchers to find their own health care.

Cute Cards Courtesy of the Koch Brothers

To force the VA to use its drugs, Big Pharma set up dummy foundations and turned to existing veterans’ organizations for support. These days, however, the Big Money people have found a more efficient way to make their weight felt.  Now, when they need the political clout of a veterans’ organization, they help finance one of their own.

Consider Concerned Veterans for America (CVA). The group’s stated mission: “to preserve the freedom and prosperity we and our families fought and sacrificed to defend.”  What patriotic American wouldn’t want to get behind that?

The problem that concerns the group right now is the “divide” between civilians and soldiers, which exists, its leaders claim, because responsibility for veterans has been “pushed to the highest levels of government.” That has left veterans isolated from their own communities, which should be taking care of them.

Concerned Veterans for America proposes (though not quite in so many words) to close that gap by sacking the VA and giving vets the “freedom” to find their own health care. The 102-page proposal of CVA’s Task Force on “Fixing Veterans’ Health Care” would let VA hospitals treat veterans with “service-connected health needs” — let them, that is, sweat the hard stuff — while transforming most VA Health Care facilities into an “independent, non-profit corporation” to be “preserved,” if possible, in competition “with private providers.”

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