The Central Arkansas Veterans Health Administration
is apologizing to some 3,900 veterans who receive primary care from the VA for a letter it mailed in January about enrollment in the Integrative Wellness and Medical Center at Fort Roots as being "ripe for misinterpretation and full of incorrect information," Chief of Staff Dr. Tina McClain said today. The VA is sending out letters and calling recipients of the letter.
A caller to the Times
, veteran Carolyn Reed
of North Little Rock, said the letter — sent certified mail at a cost of $6.95 — said vets who would not consent to a urine test with every primary care visit would be reassigned to a new primary care doctor. "It really concerns me that they have decided to essentially force mandatory drug testing with your veterans," Reed said.
McClain said the letter didn't specifically say that, but that she could "totally understand" how it might have been interpreted that way. She said the veterans who have contacted her have had many concerns with the letter. She said the VA wanted to "set the record straight with veterans that they do not have to consent to any treatment or modality" of care they are not comfortable with.
Reed was concerned because she did not want to lose her primary care doctor, but considers drug testing an invasion of privacy. Reed also said she does not use drugs, but knows veterans who use marijuana to relieve symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder and does not believe the VA should be interfering with that choice.
The VA does require veterans who are being treated for chronic pain with opioids to be tested for drugs, and vets have to sign a consent form saying they will not take recreational drugs along with their prescribed drugs. If veterans refuse drug testing, the VA will "look at alternative ways to manage pain," VA spokesperson Debby Meece
said. New rules on opioid use handed down by the Federal Drug Administration in 2015 to combat the over-prescription of such drugs as Oxycontin have been controversial: Vets have said the increased drug tests are inconvenient, especially in the busy VA system. McClain confirmed that certain drugs are not prescribed with refills and that doctors require patients to be reassessed before renewing those scripts. However, she said, "there is no issue with us getting patients in" in Central Arkansas's system, and that patients can be assessed over the phone in some instances.
Veteran Reed also said the letter indicated that if you were late for an appointment with your doctor, you would not be able to get prescription refills. McClain said the letter did indeed say that and that it was incorrect.
Reed took particular exception to a sentence that said "we are only as healthy as our behaviors." Reed said, "Okey dokey, either whoever wrote that either slept through genetics class or has not lived in the real world."
The first letter went out under the signature of Dr. Matthew Jennings
, associate chief of staff. The VA is mailing a second letter, under the signature of Dr. Cyril Ekeh,
interim medical center director, and is making phone calls, Meece said.
The integrative health center is being offered by three primary care physicians who are using therapies such as yoga, accupuncture and meditation in conjunction with traditional medicine.