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February 28, 2015

Wisconsin lawmakers want focus on Tomah VA Center

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI)

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI)

Lawmakers in Washington want attention focused on the Tomah Veterans Administration Medical Center. A media report said doctors at the Tomah Center allegedly over-prescribed opiate painkillers, and one service member died.

Congressman Ron Kind is asking the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee to examine pain management procedures at the facility. “These allegations are extremely serious, and a hearing would identify an important next step towards identifying problems and finding solutions, not just in Tomah, but system wide,” the La Crosse Democrat said. Kind is being joined in the request by congressman Tim Walz of Minnesota, and Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin wants a similar hearing by the Senate veterans’ panel.

“Congress has a role in making sure that pain management programs for our veterans are being managed responsibly, which should include looking into pain-killer prescription rates, to make sure that every veteran is getting the appropriate treatment,” said Kind.

Tomah’s medical chief-of-staff David Houlihan was reassigned last week as part of an investigation by the V.A. That was after the Center for Investigative Reporting found that the numbers of opiates given to Tomah’s hospitalized veterans grew by 500 percent from 2004-through-2012.

WSAU

Tomah VA probed for overmedication allegations

David Houlihan (Facebook photo via Center for Investigative Reporting)

David Houlihan (Facebook photo via Center for Investigative Reporting)

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has launched an immediate investigation into allegations of over-medication and a hostile, retaliatory work environment at the Tomah VA Medical Center. Also, Tomah Chief of Staff, psychiatrist David Houlihan, has been removed from the facility.

U.S. Representative Ron Kind (D-La Crosse), whose district includes the VA hospital in Tomah, is in Wisconsin just a few days after asking for an official investigation into the increased use of opiates at that veterans facility. This discrepancy came to light after a federal whistle-blower complaint was filed.

“I’ve reached out to that individual, too, to have conversations. I wanna sit down with that individual to get more information as far as what he saw and what he may have witnessed himself while at the VA.”

The Center for Investigative Reporting said the numbers of opiate prescriptions at Tomah grew by over 500 percent from 2004 to 2012, even as the numbers of veterans seeking care declined. According to the report, workers who raised questions about patients being “doped-up” were punished. A Marine died last August from an overdose.

The La Crosse Democrat had meetings scheduled at the VA hospital. “Trying to reach out to other people who might have first hand knowledge of what they saw occuring in Tomah.”

An investigation aims to find out how something like this could go on for such a long period of time. “That’s a great question,” Kind says. “That’s one of the questions I’m going to have actually for (Tomah VA) Director Mario DeSanctis if these allegations are true … what steps are being taken internally right there in Tomah to look into this.”

He cautions, there are two sides to every story.

On Tuesday, Senator Baldwin sent a letter to federal VA Secretary Robert McDonald expressing her concerns. She says the high-level investigation will be conducted by the Veterans Health Administration and the Office of Accountability Review.

“I spoke to Secretary McDonald this morning and he informed me that he is taking these allegations very seriously and is immediately launching a thorough investigation,” said Baldwin. “In addition, he has decided to remove the Tomah Chief of Staff from the facility and bar him from seeing patients and writing prescriptions. These are important initial steps and I will closely monitor the investigation’s progress and work to ensure that its scope and resulting remedial actions will achieve and maintain the goal of providing the timely, highest-quality care that our Wisconsin veterans have earned.”

Kind will hold a press conference on Friday at his office in La Crosse to provide updates and discuss what needs to be done to determine the extent of the problem and swiftly resolve it.

Kind sent a letter on Monday to the federal Department of Veterans Affairs requesting a formal investigation. He wants to know whether this is Tomah-specific, whether it’s system-wide in the VA, or whether it’s a problem throughout the entire health-care system.

Congressman Ron Kind calls for investigation at Tomah VA

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI)

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI)

U.S. Representative Ron Kind (D-WI) wants to get to the bottom of allegations that the Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center in Tomah has been over-prescribing opiates to its patients.

The La Crosse Democrat on Monday sent a letter to the federal Department of Veterans Affairs requesting a formal investigation of what he calls “serious allegations” of over-prescribing painkillers at the facility. “And not just focused on Tomah.” But, he wants to see “if this is something more system-wide throughout the entire VA medical system throughout the country on our treatment of veterans, especially with post traumatic stress or traumatic brain injury.

Kind, whose district includes the VA hospital in Tomah, says every veteran deserves the best care possible, so the top priority needs to be “determining what the problem is and resolving it immediately.”

The Center for Investigative Reporting said the numbers of opiate prescriptions at Tomah grew by over 500 percent from 2004-to-2012, even as the numbers of veterans seeking care declined.

AUDIOKind responds to the report of over-prescribed painkillers at Tomah. :63

Kind also wants to know what, if anything, is being done about it. “What steps have been taken to start implementing the inspector general’s report that came out in the spring of 2014?”

If something isn’t working well in the delivery of medical services, Kind says, “We need to know about it and we need to fix it immediately.”

According to the report, workers who raised questions about patients being “doped-up” were punished. A Marine died last August from “mixed drug toxicity” — or an overdose. The information came to light after a federal whistle-blower complaint was filed.

Report: opiates ‘handed out like candy’ at Tomah VA Center

The Veterans Administration is investigating ongoing concerns about painkillers given patients at the VA Medical Center in Tomah. The California-based Center for Investigative Reporting said numbers of opiate prescriptions at Tomah grew by over 500 percent from 2004-to-2012, while nationally, the numbers of veterans on VA prescribed opiates dropped by 6 percent over the past year, as the VA moved to reduce pill usage and seek alternative treatments.

The CIR report said opiates were “handed out like candy” to patients at the Tomah center who were reportedly “doped up,” that workers who raised questions were punished, and that a Marine died from an overdose last August. The center quotes former Tomah mental health secretary Ryan Honl as saying the system has “gone completely haywire.” Honl filed a federal whistle-blower complaint just before leaving last October.

CIR reported that opiate prescriptions have skyrocketed under Tomah VA Center Chief of Staff David Houlihan. Houlihan is quoted saying there’s nothing unusual about what he’s done, and that he’s has been attempting to reduce opiate usage for veterans who got were given large doses from other doctors, or during their military service. He also said Tomah doctors are making increased use of Suboxone, a drug which can help patients fight addictions to other narcotics.

Veterans bring concerns to Wisconsin Capitol

PHOTO: WRN

PHOTO: WRN

Veterans presented a list of grievances at the Capitol on Thursday. The group presented a wide-ranging list of complaints, but their main beef seems to be with the Eau Claire Schools which, according to former state Senator Dave Zien, is the only district in the nation to have prohibited the use of ceremonial weapons by military color guards. “Don’t say the word g-u-n-s,” said Zien. “They’re shooting blanks, there’s a plug in the end of the barrel,” said state Representative-elect James “Jimmy Boy” Edming.

The Eau Claire district did prohibit the use of ceremonial weapons on Veterans Day last month, which led a veterans group their to hold ceremonies at an off-campus location. The veterans at the Capitol also want, assurances that students at Wisconsin public schools are being made to recite the Pledge of Allegiance every day, along with new veteran-related designations for several state highways, and constriction of a fourth state veterans home.