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VA's Wilkie defends using dogs in medical research

By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 9, 2018

WASHINGTON – Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie on Friday defended the VA’s continued use of dogs in medical research.

Canine research at the agency has sparked outrage among some lawmakers and veterans groups that have argued during the past year that it's cruel and an incorrect use of taxpayer money. Earlier this year, Congress passed legislation that requires the VA secretary’s approval before funding the experiments. USA Today reported last week the research was continuing.

Speaking at the National Press Club on Friday, Wilkie argued the research was necessary for medical breakthroughs that could help veterans.

“Let me put this in perspective first,” he said. “We have 92 canines. Every day, 2,000 dogs are euthanized in this country.”

Approximately 670,000 shelter dogs are euthanized each year, according to statistics from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. That’s about 1,836 each day.

Wilkie credited the research for the first liver transplant in the 1960s, as well as the VA’s invention of the cardiac pacemaker in the 1950s.

He said the experiments were now necessary for research involving spinal cord injuries. The crowd -- comprising VA employees, veterans and advocates -- applauded Friday when Wilkie said the research wouldn’t stop until it was proven to be unhelpful.

“I’m going to do everything that is ethical to make sure that our veterans come first,” Wilkie said. “I love canines, I was raised with them. I’ve seen them in my military life perform miracles. But we have an opportunity to change the lives of men and women who have been terribly hurt.”

Wentling.nikki@stripes.com
Twitter: @nikkiwentling

 

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