VA's overmedication of vets widespread, Inspector General finds

NEW YORK -- A federal investigation confirmed Wednesday what CBS News reported on last year: that many wounded veterans are being overmedicated in VA hospitals. Some overdoses have been fatal. The Inspector General in the Department of Veterans Affairs discovered the problem is widespread.

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Lance Corporal Jeremy Brooking CBS News

Lance Corporal Jeremy Brooking was just 19, a Marine serving in Iraq, when a sniper's bullet tore through his chest in 2007.

"I actually died twice," he says. "They brought me back to life."

But Brooking says his real nightmare began when he got back home to Indiana. He says the most dangerous place on earth turned out to be the VA.

The VA's answer for his physical and mental trauma was drugs -- lots of them.

"Twenty-three different types of pills, easily over 100 different pills a day -- most of those were narcotics, anxiety meds and sleeping meds," Brooking says, noting he was sleeping 23 of 24 hours in the day.

"I'd wake up, eat, sleep and take more pills," he says.

He and his wife Tia begged the doctors to take him off the pills and try a different form of treatment.

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Jeremy Brooking holds the pills he was prescribed by VA doctors. Jeremy Brooking

Brooking says doctors would reply, "We don't do that. ... We don't get people off narcotics. Our job is to write prescriptions."

On Wednesday, the VA's Inspector General found:

  • Ninety-three percent of long-term narcotics patients were also on a sedative called benzodiazepine. When mixed, the two drugs put patients at an increased risk of fatal overdose.
  • Only 9 percent of VA patients taking narcotics were seen by a pain clinic.
  • Less than half of narcotics patients on multiple drugs had their medications reviewed by VA staff.

A private doctor took Brooking off the VA's two dozen medications and prescribed him just one -- suboxone, which treats his pain while fighting narcotic dependence.

"I can't count how many friends I've lost due to narcotics," Brooking says. He has lost more friends from the service back at home due to narcotics than he did while in combat.

Since CBS News broke the story, the VA says it has initiated some reforms and 40,000 fewer veterans are now being prescribed narcotics. The department also says more comprehensive pain management approaches are being implemented at VA hospitals around the country.

  • Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the senior national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for "CBS This Morning," the "CBS Evening News," "CBS Sunday Morning," and other CBS News broadcasts.