October 27, 2023

HVAC Democrats Call for Increased Oversight of the Opioid Epidemic Facing Veterans

Press Contact

Libby Carlson

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, Democrats on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, led by Vice Ranking Member Chris Deluzio (PA-17), sent a letter to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Denis McDonough, raising concerns about the dangerous lack of oversight of the opioid prescribing procedures for veterans who receive their healthcare outside VA. 

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a report which estimated that 80% of non-VA Community Care Network (CCN) providers who prescribe opioids to veterans are not completing mandated safety training. Also, for two-thirds of the OIG-reviewed sample of prescriptions, there was no evidence that the community provider consulted state prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) databases, as required by law. House Democrats on the Committee are extremely disturbed that these legally required safety steps to protect veterans from opioid abuse and overdose are not being followed. 

In their letter, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Democrats sounded the alarm on this concerning report that also revealed that neither the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), nor the Third-Party Administrators (TPAs) who oversee the CCN, took accountability for or seemed to care that veterans receive high-quality healthcare that meets standards of safe practice. 

They are requesting a response from the Secretary by November 30th to the following questions: 

  • On what basis does the VHA Office of Integrated Veteran Care contend that assuring the quality of care in the community by “restricting referrals or obstructing association to the community provider network” is an impediment to “Veterans’ best interests?”   
  • If CCN providers and TPAs are not held accountable for substandard practice or failed contract compliance, what mechanism is in place to ensure the care veterans receive in the community is safe and meets standards?  
  • What penalties exist and are executed for TPAs that fail to comply with their VA contract? Has VA ever imposed such penalties on the TPAs for failure to comply with contractual requirements related to opioid safety, including network providers’ compliance with PDMP requirements? 
  • IVC has set a target completion date of June 2024 to clarify any ambiguity about TPAs’ responsibility. That is two years after the OIG unearthed this supposed ambiguity. Time is ticking as community providers are likely still issuing veterans opioid prescriptions without any assurance of safe clinical practice. Why can’t this ambiguity be immediately corrected while VA works on the revised larger TPA contracts? 
  • What guarantee can you offer that new contracts will hold TPAs responsible for monitoring and assuring that CCN providers comply with their contracts and furnish care that is in accord with clinical and legal standards? 

“With America and Western Pennsylvania in the throes of an opioid epidemic, it is unacceptable that non-VA providers are not following the law and overprescribing opioids to their patients. The fact this is happening to our nation’s veterans is a betrayal, and it cannot stand,” said Vice Ranking Member Deluzio. “This country has a duty to give veterans the best quality care when they return from their service, and the Inspector General report makes clear that too many non-VA Community Care providers are acting with blatant disregard for the health of their veteran patients. I am eager to hear Secretary McDonough’s response to our letter, and I thank Ranking Member Takano for his ongoing commitment to our nation’s veterans.” 

“It is extremely concerning that doctors are potentially breaking the law by overprescribing opioids to veterans. Community care providers need to follow the law and must be held to the same high standard as VA providers,” said Ranking Member Mark Takano. “I look forward to hearing back from Secretary McDonough as to how they will fix this problem, address the overprescribing of opioids to our veterans, and ensure accountability applies equally to community care. Thank you to Vice Ranking Member Deluzio for his leadership on this issue.”