March 27, 2015

Senator Johnson threatens subpoena over Tomah VA investigation

Tomah VA

Tomah VA

Senator Ron Johnson is threatening to subpoena an investigation file into the issues at the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center if the VA won’t turn the files over.

Johnson is giving Acting VA Inspector General Richard Griffin until 5pm this afternoon to turn over the document. In a letter obtained by Gannett, Johnson says that Griffin has repeatedly refused to cooperate with the Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee

A spokesperson for the VA says federal law prohibits them from turning over the file, because it contains personal medical records of veterans. She also says that talks with the Justice Department have confirmed their decision to hold the records.

Johnson launched a special investigation into the Tomah Center after a report that the facility was over-prescribing opiate painkillers for several years was released.


Town hall meeting scheduled at Tomah VA

Tomah VA

Tomah VA

The Veterans Administration has scheduled a town hall style meeting in Tomah to discuss recent care and over-medication issues.

The Secretary of Veterans Affairs lead investigator and Tomah staff plan to hear what patients, their families, and the general public have to say about the treatment they’ve received. This meeting is through the VA. Another meeting will be scheduled soon by the House Veteran’s Affairs Committee. That Congressional committee has also agreed to come to Tomah for a rare field hearing, but the date has not been set yet.

The VA is planning similar town hall meetings at VA facilities around the country. This meeting is scheduled for 5:00 p.m. Thursday, March 12th in the Tomah VA Medical Center hospital chapel.


Federal lawmakers seek deeper probe into Tomah VA

Drugs (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Drugs (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Four of Wisconsin’s U.S. representatives are asking the House Veterans Affairs panel to hold a hearing in Tomah on reported over-prescriptions, wait times, and other issues at the city’s VA medical center.

Republicans Sean Duffy and James F. Sensenbrenner, and Democrats Mark Pocan and Ron Kind sent a formal request for a field hearing to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House VA Committee.

The request reads in part:

“While we are pleased the VA has launched an internal investigation, it is in Congress’ best interest to learn all we can about what went wrong at Tomah and prevent this situation from happening at other facilities. One veteran dying of an overdose is too many.”

U.S. Senate Republican Ron Johnson (R-Oshkosh) is chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. He held a hearing last week examining GAO’s 2015 List of High Risk Government Programs. “Over the last couple of years we’ve lost three veterans to the system.”

Johnson told members of the committee it’s disappointing to hear that veterans affairs health care has been added to that list. GAO experts testified that more than 100 of their recommendations to improve VA health care have not been carried out. Johnson says implementation has to be a “top priority,” saying, “Let’s make sure these recommendations are finally implemented at the agency level. It will save money; it will save lives.”

U.S. Senate Democrat Tammy Baldwin (D-Madison) asked the Justice Department for an outside independent probe into the Tomah facility. Baldwin’s office released the following statement:

“I am writing to request that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) launch an immediate investigation into allegations of criminal wrongdoing at the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Tomah, Wisconsin.  I am extremely troubled about reports linking the tragic deaths of three Wisconsin veterans to improper medical care at the facility.  Additionally, I have heard concerns regarding the conduct of the Tomah VA and the Tomah VA Police Department in response to the deaths that occurred at the facility.  Finally, concerns regarding the illegal distribution and use of prescription drugs that originated at the Tomah VA facility have been raised,” Baldwin said.

The allegations of over-prescribed painkillers were first made public a month ago. 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.

Senator Johnson wants details on Obama’s plan to fight ISIS

U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI)

U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI)

U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis) said he’s interested in hearing President Obama’s newest plans to fight ISIS. The president is expected to ask Congress for additional war powers to defeat the terrorist group.

Senator Johnson is chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. He said he wants to see specifics before he can support that request. “What do you mean by defeat? The elimination of any person who’s ever taken up the ISIS flag? That’s probably an unrealistic goal.”

AUDIOJohnson said Obama really needs to define exactly what he means. :18

Johnson said there are a lot of unanswered questions, which I believe it’s incumbent on this president to answer before we really even take a vote on the authorization to use military force.”

The Oshkosh Republican said, “What I’m really looking for from this president — from the commander in chief — is a 100 percent commitment to achieve whatever goal he establishes and whatever he requests authorization for use of military force to achieve.”

Johnson has been briefed on the president’s plan, but he hasn’t seen anything in writing yet.

Thanks to Rick Schuh, WHBY

Lead VA investigator to visit Tomah

The lead federal investigator into alleged over prescribing of painkillers at Tomah’s Veterans Administration Medical Center will be in Tomah on Friday afternoon. Dr. Carolyn Clancy’s review is expected to take 30 days. It comes after the former Tomah VA chief of staff, Doctor David Houlihan, was suspended. Houlihan had previously been reassigned. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald issued on order on Monday for a full review of opiate pain medication practices at the Tomah Center.

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.