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Marine Veteran Sues VA Medical Center, Congressman Phil Roe over Opioid Tapering Policy

A Washington County man who said he endures constant pain from training injuries he suffered while serving as a Marine filed a lawsuit earlier this month over a forced opioid tapering policy that eliminates or severely reduces veterans’ access to the pain medication.

Robert D. Rose Jr., of Gray, was a Marine sergeant when he left the service because of documented injuries he suffered during jump training. Rose made a public protest statement in July when he turned his back on U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, at a plaque presentation commemorating historic buildings at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center at Mountain Home. Rose has taken his protest a step further with a federal lawsuit against Roe and 17 VA Medical Center employees, including the director, doctors, nurses and police officers.

After Roe’s speech in July, Rose told his story to Press reporter Brandon Paykamian.

“I joined the Marines in 1983. As a Marine, I served in Rota, Spain, Naples, Italy, Camp Lejeune, as well as doing two deployments to the Mediterranean. I know that God protected me in that I did not see combat, but as each of you know, training can sometimes be just as dangerous,” Rose said. “While jumping (with) my ALICE pack and my M16, I damaged my hips, legs and ankles and, through stupidity, damaged my spine in my short 11 years and thus became a veteran.”

He said many veterans like him have been “denied adequate access” to the health care they need since the initiative first began in 2012 and added additional guidelines in March 2016. According to Rose, one of the specific VA guidelines he finds to be disturbing was that “doctors should not take the threat of suicide seriously when a veteran is placed on a forced taper or denied pain medications.”

In his lawsuit, Rose said his injuries are degenerative and incurable, which resulted in “long-term Intractable Pain Disease.” The condition apparently presents as severe, constant pain that causes the sufferer to become home or bed bound, and it can lead to early death if not adequately treated. Rose indicated in his suit that he, as well as 90 percent of veterans receiving care at the VA Medical Center, had been denied opioid medications since October 2016.

According to his suit, Rose attempted to talk to Roe after the July 3 presentation, but VA police prevented him from speaking with the congressman.

“I was kidnapped (forced to enter police station against my will without being read my rights or being charged with a crime) by threat of physical violence by three armed officers,” Rose said in the filing. “I was then illegally detained in excess of 30 minutes. These actions by the Mountain Home VAMC police force prevented me from speaking to the congressman but also prevented me from speaking to other veterans about these policies.”

Rose said he was also prohibited from speaking to a fellow Marine veteran in the medical center foyer.

Rose also accused VA medical staff of falsifying documents to indicate he had violated a pain management narcotic agreement, discharged him from the ER with a blood pressure of 225/170, and slandered him in his official federal medical record with false entries and labeled him as a danger to himself, others and medical staff at the VA.

Rose asked for monetary compensation totaling $350 million for pain and suffering and violation of his constitutional rights. He said part of that pain and suffering included his physical pain and physical inability to attend a family gathering in October 2017 after his sister died, which prevented him from being able to properly grieve with his relatives because his pain was unbearable.

“On Oct. 8, 2017, I placed a call to Dean Borsos, director of Mountain Home VAMC, begging the VA to help me with my Intractable Pain conditions just for the week to be with my family. Mr. Borsos and the VA refused,” and Rose remained confined to his home while his family was able to be together to grieve. Rose said he willingly served his country without regard to his own physical well-being.

“In my youth I signed a blank check for my country as a United States Marine. I was 11 days late for my wedding, without so much as a phone call, as we sailed for the Libyan coast. Then, after returning from another deployment, my son did not even recognize me. Days and weeks I would leave my wife and child alone in order to defend this great nation and our Constitution. Three contracts guaranteed infantry without hesitation simply because I believe in my country and our heritage.”

Now, Rose said in the suit, “I am homebound, living in my recliner or bed, suffering moment by painful moment while Mountain Home VA ignores my plea for relief.”

Rose said any money he receives as a result of the suit would be placed in a trust:

• “To provide free legal representation to veterans and civilians who are discriminated against by government agencies and doctors and refused ‘the best possible medical care to include opioid based medications’ for intractable pain;

• “Educate government officials and the general public the need of opioid based medication to treat severe Intractable Pain conditions for veterans, the elderly, cancer patients, the disabled and anyone who may be stricken with such illness;

• “Repeal and replace current opioid prescribing guidelines based on falsified data from the CDC, NIH, DEA, etc. at the earliest possible date to prevent further harm and death to veterans and 100 million Americans with Intractable Pain Disease.”

U.S. District Judge Travis McDonough filed an order discouraging the defendants from filing a motion to dismiss until the parties meet and determine if any defect in Rose’s pro se filing “is likely to be cured by filing an amendment.”

McDonough also ordered that “pro se parties familiarize themselves with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Local Rules for the Eastern District of Tennessee, which can be found on the court’s website.”

A week after Rose’s public protest, Roe sent an email to the Johnson City Press saying Rose’s criticisms and protests were unwarranted, though he acknowledged the concerns of veterans like Rose in regard to their medications being taken away and tapered.

“While I support the goals of this initiative and applaud the VA for taking steps to curb dependence on opioids, I also have been made aware of many concerns from veterans like Mr. Rose that necessary pain management may have been reduced or eliminated too quickly and will conduct oversight through my position as chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs as to whether the policy needs to be modified,” Roe wrote.

Roe believes the issue is more complicated than what Rose claimed and said the new guidelines for restricting the opioid overuse is a measure that has been implemented to combat the national opioid epidemic.

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