Congress to probe veterans' overdoses

There has been a tremendous response to

the CBS News report that showed many returning war veterans are receiving lethal amounts of pain medication from VA hospitals. Congress will hold a hearing on this Thursday. Since the story aired, CBS News has learned of case after case of veterans who've died after following doctors' orders.

In the weeks after our investigation aired, CBS News received photos like the one below -- the daily dosage of pain pills prescribed to a 30-year-old VA patient in Texas.

The daily medications prescribed to a 30-year-old VA patient in Texas.
CBS News

Another photo showed pills prescribed to a 54-year-old VA patient in Oklahoma.

Ricky Green, a veteran of the first Gulf War, died of an overdose of pain medications.
CBS News

Among the medications prescribed to Ricky Green, a veteran of the first Gulf War, for his back pain were three narcotics. His wife Kimberly described a visit her husband made to his VA doctors in September of 2011.

"He wanted to be taken off this large amount of medicines," she said.

However, Kimberly said, doctors and health care providers insisted he continue taking the medications -- all of them.

"He followed the doctor's orders," said Kimberly.

The next month, Green died in his sleep, accidentally overdosing on a narcotic and a muscle relaxer prescribed by VA medical centers in Arkansas.

"We had a future together," said Kimberly Green, who lost her husband to an overdose of pain meds.
CBS News

"He was only 43 years old. And we had -- we had a future together. And this shouldn't have happened," said Kimberly.

The congressional hearing Thursday will examine the VA's practice of prescribing pain medications.

"Unfortunately, it has become a routine way of dealing with our veterans, is to give them a prescription," said Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., who chairs the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

"Masking the pain only temporarily takes it away," said Miller. "It's the underlying cause that absolutely has to be treated."

Right now, VA hospitals have just two pain management specialists for every 100,000 veterans. With more veterans coming from Iraq and Afghanistan, the system is only going to get more overloaded.

  • Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the anchor of the Saturday edition of the "CBS Evening News" and a national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for the "CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley" and other CBS News broadcasts.

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