Following WCW Complaint, Feds Investigating Cleveland VA’s Wasteful and Illegal Animal Labs

Posted by Amanda Nieves
02 October 2023 | Blog

UPDATE (12/15/23):
The Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of the Inspector General has confirmed that there is an active law enforcement investigation related to WCW’s October 2023 complaint filed against the Cleveland VA documenting its illegal experiments on cats and other animals and demanding that tax dollars be returned.

Original post

The White Coat Waste Project (WCW) recently exposed more wasteful spending on an illegal plan approved by Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Denis McDonough to restart the agency’s cat experiments at the notorious Stokes lab in Cleveland.

Now, our investigators have also obtained a new trove of VA records via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) including a never-before-released 2021 internal report detailing how the Cleveland VA’s cat lab and its animal testing oversight committee extensively violated federal animal welfare laws and misspent millions of tax dollars.  

Now, we’re demanding accountability and a refund! Read our federal complaint below.

Stokes Animal Lab Cleveland

You may recall that back in 2020, WCW exposed Cleveland VA experiments in which healthy and “playful” kittens were subjected to invasive surgeries to implant electrodes to remotely stimulate their colons and bladders.  

Stokes Animal Lab Cleveland

Records obtained by WCW describe Copper as a “friendly” and “playful” kitten. The VA implanted electrodes into Copper’s bladder and forced him to pee blood with a remote control. Copper was abused for 14 months and slaughtered at this taxpayer-funded lab.

Some of the cats had artificial stool made from “bran, potato flour, and saline” inserted into their anuses for the experiments. Records show the experimental procedures caused cats distress, seizures, bloody urine, and even depression. While we were ultimately able to shut down the project and save some of the cats like the Stokes Sisters, many of the cats were killed and dissected after the painful experiments. 

Now, we’ve obtained a report showing that following our 2020 investigation and campaign against the Cleveland VA’s cat experiments, the VA’s Office of Research Oversight (ORO) probed the lab in 2021 and documented years of rampant waste and abuse. 

The VA found that in some cases, cats at the Cleveland lab did not receive pain relief prior to invasive and harmful procedures. The report also documented other disturbing violations of federal policies and laws including:  

Stokes Animal Lab Cleveland

Additionally, the VA documented that the Cleveland lab’s animal experimentation oversight committee was illegally constituted from March to December 2020 because it did not include a member of the general public and a non-animal-experimenter—both required by federal law to ensure the white coats don’t run amok. 

Federal policies state that this failing voids all approvals and other decisions made by the committee during the nine-month period, and that any government spending on animal experiments during this noncompliant time is prohibited.  

We don’t yet know exactly how much money the Cleveland VA wasted on its unlawful animal experiments, but the VA ORO reported that Cleveland’s labs were experimenting on cats and other animals in 38 separate taxpayer-funded projects at the time of its review.  

We do know, however, that the $4 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant that funded the Cleveland VA’s cat experiments raked in $1,228,799 in taxpayer dollars in 2020 and 2021 when the facility was breaking the law. 

Stokes Animal Lab Cleveland

It’s high time for accountability!  

We’ve just filed a new complaint with the Inspectors General of the VA and the National Institutes of Health demanding that they enforce the law and claw back all taxpayer dollars spent on these illegal and abusive animal tests at the Cleveland VA and suspend any projects that have not received proper reviews and approvals in 2020. 

This isn’t the first time that WCW campaigns and federal complaints targeting the VA’s wasteful animal testing have prompted internal agency investigations that confirmed our allegations of waste and abuse. Following our work, the VA has repeatedly identified non-compliant and abusive experiments on dogs, primates, and other animals and associated unlawful spending on them. 

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