Veteran turns his back on Congressman Phil Roe in an act of protest Monday

Brandon Paykamian • Updated Jul 4, 2017 at 12:46 AM

When U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, took the podium to speak at a plaque presentation Monday commemorating historic buildings at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center at Mountain Home, he faced a largely supportive audience when he spoke about his passion for helping veterans.

During his speech, he talked about how he has dedicated much of his political energy as chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs to helping veterans receive the care they need.

“What makes me proud of serving in Washington — now as the chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee — is that the United States of America provides more for its veterans than all other nations in the world put together,” Roe said.

With his support for initiatives like the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act and VETERAN Act, Roe, a veteran himself, has enjoyed a lot of support from many other local veterans.

But not all veterans are happy with some of the policies supported by Roe, and when the congressman went to the podium Monday, Sgt. Robert Rose, a disabled veteran, turned his wheelchair to face away from the congressman when he gave his speech, showing clear contempt in an apparent gesture of protest against Roe.

Rose said one of the main reasons he has relentlessly campaigned against Roe is the “opioid safety initiative,” which he believes has denied patients, including veterans such as him, pain medications they need for their injuries.

During his protest on Monday, Rose was in visible pain.

“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” states “doctors should not take the threat of suicide seriously when a veteran is placed on a forced taper or denied pain medications.”

“Forced taper” refers to a reduction in pain medications.

In 2008, the Senate heard testimonies from pain doctors and specialists to determine the consequences of restricting pain medications for patients suffering with chronic pain. Dr. Alex DeLuca, a practitioner and patients’ rights activist who spoke at the hearing, said denial of pain medications to patients is the same as a “death sentence” for those suffering from chronic pain.

DeLuca also reported that veterans, and other patients affected by the initiative, are twice as likely to commit suicide when denied their medications.

In 2012, Congress held another hearing in which experts like DeLuca expressed the same concerns.

To the dismay of veterans like Rose, the initiative went through despite these concerns.

“With the ink still wet on these findings in 2012, the VA began its ‘opioid safety initiative’ in various cities in Minnesota (and then other states),” Rose said of events following DeLuca’s testimony.

Rose, like many veterans who have become disillusioned after service, believes policies such as the opioid initiative are a part of a historical pattern of the government falling short when it comes to helping veterans.

“Currently there are more than 23 million veterans in the United States who I proudly call my brothers and sisters in green. Many of us have witnessed firsthand or heard the many ways in which the VA delays or denies us benefits and quality healthcare,” Rose said. “The sad truth of the matter is that Congress is complicit in many of these policies. Just look at how many years it took for veterans from Vietnam to get limited benefits relating to Agent Orange.”

Though Rose turned his back to Roe Monday, he said he will not turn his back on what he sees as neglect and cruelty and will continue to campaign against the opioid initiative.