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Schumer: Is the VA testing Trump-touted drug on New York veterans with COVID-19?

President Trump has touted hydroxychloroquine as a potentially effective drug against COVID-19, though studies and tests have shown mixed results and harmful side effects for patients. (REUTERS/Yves Herman)

New York Senator Charles Schumer is calling on the Department of Veterans Affairs to answer whether veterans are being used for clandestine COVID-19 testing.

Schumer sent Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie a letter on Sunday asking what exactly the VA has done, and is doing, with its supply of chloroquine drugs, including hydroxychloroquine. According to Schumer, the VA has failed to address a recent bulk order of the malaria drug that President Donald Trump has promoted as an effective treatment for COVID-19. 

“When it comes to the testing and treatment of vets with these chloroquine drugs, including hydroxychloroquine, families are left with more questions than answers,” Schumer said.  “The VA needs to provide full details on the recent bulk order, the status of any testing, and the notification process to families. Recent actions by the VA have spurred serious questions and the fact that the VA has yet to answer them is deeply concerning. If vets are being given this risky drug, New York families — and all families — have a right to know what is going on and what’s intended for the future,” the senator added.

Schumer said it is not known where the bulk order was shipped, but cited the 79 VA hospitals across New York as possible destinations. Twenty-five of those hospitals are in New York City and another seven are on Long Island.

In his letter to Wilkie, Schumer said the FDA has warned that hydroxychloroquine can cause life-threatening cardiac issues when used to treat COVID-19 and that veterans’ groups “remain deeply concerned that the VA has made large purchases of this drug and appears to have administered it to veterans despite the well-known, and in some cases, fatal risks.” 

The Senate minority leader wrote that the VA’s own study found that “the drug was not only ineffective in treating COVID-19 but actually increased the risk of death among patients.”

In the VA’s study of 368 patients, 97 patients who took hydroxychloroquine had a 27.8% death rate while the 58 patients who did not take the drug had an 11.4% death rate, according to Schumer. 

These concerns regarding the use of hydroxychloroquine have prompted Schumer to question the VA’s recent bulk order. The senator demanded answers to the following questions from the VA to better understand how hydroxychloroquine is being used to treat veterans suffering from COVID-19 no later than May 22. 

1)    What was the explicit purpose for the bulk order of hydroxychloroquine, which was made in the last several weeks? What proportion of the order was used to treat acute malaria, lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis?  What proportion was used to treat COVID-19?  Other conditions?

2)    Is the VA continuing to administer hydroxychloroquine to patients for the purposes of treating COVID-19? If yes, how many veterans have been treated with hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19? 

3)    Is the VA tracking and reporting detailed information regarding any serious adverse events related to the use of hydroxychloroquine?

4)    Does the VA plan on providing detailed information to veterans and their families related to the use of hydroxychloroquine for testing or treatment related to COVID-19?

5)    Which VA sites will or have received drugs from this recent order for the purposes of treating of COVID?

6)    Is the VA currently able to meet all needs for hydroxychloroquine for veteran patients with rheumatoid arthritis or lupus?

7)    Is there any informed consent at VA medical centers for receiving hydroxychloroquine? If so, is it written or verbal?

8)    Does the VA plan any further studies involving veteran patients regarding the use of COVID-19?

9)    Will the VA provide notification to Congress on any experimental tests being done on vets related to COVID-19?

10) Were you or any official at the VA ever pressured by the White House, the Department of Health and Human Services, or any other agencies to use hydroxychloroquine on veteran patients for the treatment of COVID-19?

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