Health Care

Lawmakers want DoD, VA pharmacies to match meds

The House Armed Services Committee wants the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments' pharmacies to offer the same medications, at least for some prescriptions.

Legislation introduced this week calls for the formularies of both departments to match medications for pain management, sleep disorders, psychiatric conditions and other illnesses "determined appropriate" by the DoD and VA secretaries.

Committee aides said lawmakers are looking to ensure continuity of care and treatment when troops move from active duty to veterans status.

Concerns over the two departments' discordant formularies have been raised by veterans and advocacy groups. Few stories demonstrate the importance of the issue for service members like the death of former Marine Clay Hunt, who became a veterans advocate after leaving military service in 2009 but died shortly after moving to Houston in 2011.

According to his mother, Susan Selke, Hunt suffered from depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, but when he went to the VA medical center in his new location, he had trouble getting an appointment and could not get his brand-name prescription filled at the facility's pharmacy.

He was told he would have to wait for it to be mailed to him, since the pharmacy stocked only generics.

Hunt shot himself March 31, 2011.

"If you know about antidepressant, anti-anxieties medications, you can't ... stop them cold. You can't wait for it to come in the mail and then expect that it's going to work quickly," Selke told House lawmakers last year.

The House proposal follows a recommendation from the Military Modernization and Retirement Compensation Commission that DoD and VA align their formularies.

According to the Government Accountability Office, just 43 percent of the medications in DoD's formulary also are in VA's system, excluding many pain medications, antidepressants and antipsychotics taken by injured service members for physical pain and mental health conditions.

Commission member retired Army Gen. Peter Chiarelli said the gap leaves troops vulnerable.

"If we have found a medication that works, it should be available wherever (the veteran) goes," Chiarelli said. "We should not put our service men and women in this situation."

The House Armed Services Committee will review its full version of the fiscal 2016 defense authorization bill on Thursday. The Senate will work on its own version of the legislation over the next few weeks.

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