Widow: VA drug treatments led to overdose

Lawmakers told of vet’s treatment at Ohio VA clinic.

A tearful Heather McDonald of Columbus told a congressional committee Thursday that in her husband’s final weeks of life he was taking massive doses of prescription drugs as he struggled to overcome post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain from his service abroad with the U.S. Army.

Testifying before a House subcommittee, McDonald provided lawmakers with a detailed and powerful account of her husband Scott’s ordeal, which has become a vivid example of how the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs may be providing too much medication to veterans and not monitoring the effects.

“We always expect the possibility that they won’t come home,” McDonald said. “But we cannot accept that they fight for their country and after the battle is over, they come home and die.”

She said her husband would often leave the VA clinic frustrated, and at times became angry and violent. She said she could see he was broken: “I didn’t know who the man was that I was married to.”

Scott, who was treated at the Veterans Affairs Clinic in Columbus for severe back and shoulder pains as well as post-traumatic stress disorder, died on September 12 last year at age 35 due to overdose of pain medication prescribed by the VA.

“Every time Scott came home from an appointment, he had different medications, different dosages, and different directions on how to take them,” she said before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health. “My husband was taking up to 15 pills a day within the first six months of treatment.”

McDonald, who paused several times to wipe away tears from her eyes, told lawmakers

that the drugs prescribed her husband included ibuprofen, gabapentin, and meloxicam to treat his pain, and Zoloft, Valium, and Vicodin to treat depression and anxiety. On the day before his death, physicians added Percocet, a powerful narcotic.

Less than 24 hours later, she said she came home to find him disoriented and lethargic. “He said he was fine,” McDonald said, but a half hour later she saw him on the couch “cold and unresponsive.’’

“Chronic pain is the most common medical problem reported by veterans returning from the battlefield,” said Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Calif. “The treatment of chronic and severe pain often involves physicians prescribing highly addictive pain killers that if not properly monitored can lead to death.”

McDonald testified that she was not allowed to accompany her husband during his treatments at the VA clinic.

“I had to wait in the waiting room,’’ she said. “I was told that due to privacy issues I was not allowed to be there ….“I finally stopped going.”