Navy veteran Robert Williams was surprised to learn that he had been tested for drugs, which he had only learned about after asking for his lab results in order to find out about his cholesterol level. Said Williams: "Just because they have a sample or tissue of mine does not mean they have a right to test it." Now he is, rightfully, protesting what he believes to be a privacy infringement.
Williams provided The News Herald with a copy of the lab results, which showed that he was tested– and came up negative – for cocaine and opiates, amongst other drugs. Williams, who is sternly opposed to using drugs – was concerned less with the results of the test than he was with why the test was even done at all. Even more concerning is the question he raised of how many other people may have been tested unknowingly, and who might still never know if they never received a copy of their lab results, or noticed such a result on their reports.
The VA's regional provider told The News Herald that the test does not require the patient's consent in order to be performed. However, both a national VA representative and a representative from Senator Marco Rubio's office both agreed with Williams that the tests are not part of the VA's policy, and that they are not to be administered with the patient's consent.
Says Williams: "It’s an invasion of my privacy. ... I don’t have a problem with employers doing it as a function of your employment, but I absolutely have a problem with a government agency like VA testing us with no probable cause, with no medical necessity, with no indication that there is any kind of abuse situation going on."
When The News Herald reached out to the VA, it defended the testing, saying that the VA may order a test of a veteran's blood, saliva, and urine because the agency is required to regularly check veterans' prescriptions of controlled substances, including opioids and amphetamines.
Jerron Barnett, a spokesperson for the Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System (GCVHCS), wrote in a prepared statement that the test was not an invasion of someone's privacy, and that: "This test does not require consent from the veteran, but the veteran is free to do the test or not. ... If there is proof a veteran isn’t taking his/her controlled substances responsibly…the provider may stop the veteran’s prescription.” Williams noted that the only prescription he takes is for testosterone, not one of the controlled substances that the VA says it is required to monitor.
While the GCVHCS maintains one position, a national representative for the VA held quite another. Michele Hammonds of the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Office of Communications said the GCVHCS's statement was inaccurate, and that VA patients have the right to accept or refuse any recommended medical procedure or treatment.
Jim Strickland, a Vietnam veteran, VA watchdog, and retired healthcare professional, said it best: “It’s a sensitive issue, and veterans have a right to know what to expect. If drug screens are there for every vet, we need to see the policy. Otherwise, VA should be more transparent so that vets aren’t in fear of seeking health care.”