May 23, 2015

Bill from Kind and Ribble would address VA painkiller concerns

Tomah VA

Tomah VA

New federal legislation proposed in the wake of the Tomah Veterans Administration prescription painkiller crisis. The bipartisan Veterans Pain Management Improvement Act would establish pain management boards around the country. It’s based on a recommendation by the VA Office of Inspector General.

“I think it’s a recommendation that we need to move forward on,” said Wisconsin Representative Ron Kind. “This will create statutory authority for the VA to move forward on it, and I think time is of the essence.” The La Crosse Democrat introduced the measure with Congressmen Reid Ribble (R-WI) and Lee Zeldin (R-NY)

The pain management boards would be set up in each Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) composed of health care professionals and clinical patients and/or family members of a clinical patient. The pain management boards would:

· Serve as a resource for the region’s facilities, patients, and family members
· Provide best practices recommendations for pain management to the VA facilities within its region, including patient, family member and medical perspectives
· Provide an annual report to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs about pain management practices within its region: what is working and what is not working
· Report to Congress, so that there is greater accountability on pain management practices

The bill is in response to the events at the Tomah VA hospital, where a patient fatally overdosed amid widespread over-prescription of opiate painkillers. “This is a problem that’s endemic throughout the entire health care system, and this may prove to be a model of how we can move forward to correct it,” Kind said.

The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs has scheduled a field hearing in Tomah on Monday.

Construction workers dye beards green, raise money for Honor Flight

Never Forgotten Honor Flight

Never Forgotten Honor Flight

What started as a St. Patrick’s Day joke turned into a St. Patrick’s Day fundraiser to help area veterans.

Several employees of Wisconsin Public Service’s Weston Three ReACT facility have teamed up with construction workers. Kelly Zagrzebski said men are dying their beards green to raise money for the Never Forgotten Honor Flight.  “And they were collecting money to dye their beards green, so over 50 folks, construction staff, actually went and dyed their beards green.”

Since they had never done this before, Zagrzebski said the initial goal was low, but it didn’t take long to realize they would easily surpass it.  They’ve generated a lot of green stuff from their green beards, well over $500. “Our goal was 50, so we’re more than that, and our goal for fundraising was $500, and again, we are well over the $500.”

Zagrzebski said the fundraiser all started when construction workers were making wisecracks about their beards.  “The project started by somewhat of a joke down in the construction trailer,” she recalled, “and someone said, ‘I’d pay to see that.’ So, it took off from there.”

Later Tuesday, Jim Campbell from Never Forgotten Honor Flight will go the construction site, where the construction workers from WPS, Boldt Construction, and others will present him with the money raised by hair on their green chins.


Report: Baldwin staffers mishandled Tomah VA concerns

Tomah VA

Tomah VA

A report commissioned by the office of Wisconsin U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin found no cover-up or any similar effort to suppress whistleblower allegations, or a report by the Office of Inspector General, into the overmedication of patients at the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Tomah.

Baldwin’s office released the findings of the report by a Seattle based law firm on Friday. It blames members of the Democrat’s constituent services staff for mishandling the Inspector General’s report, and said more “could have been done by staff to address the problems at Tomah.”

The report from the Perkins Coie firm found that Baldwin’s constituent services team in Milwaukee did not effectively communicate their work on the issue, either to Baldwin’s Wisconsin State Director, or staff in Washington, D.C.

“On July 1, 2014, Senator Baldwin visited the Tomah VA facility. Senator Baldwin’s Chief of Staff had been pressing the staff to identify problems at Wisconsin VA facilities that could be addressed in the reform legislation moving through Congress following the Phoenix VA scandal. Prior to Senator Baldwin’s trip, staff convened a conference call to go over issues that Senator Baldwin should discuss with facility administrators while at Tomah. Although the Deputy State Director for Constituent Services (Casework Supervisor) was on the call, she inexplicably failed to inform other staff about the whistleblower complaint, the office’s correspondence with the Director of the Tomah VA Medical Center, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Congressional Liaison, the VA Great Lakes Health Care System, VISN 12, or its initial communications with the OIG. As a result, Senator Baldwin was not made aware of this crucial information in advance of her visit to the Tomah facility in July.”

Problems at the Tomah Center initially came to light in January, when the California-based Center for Investigative Reporting said that opiate prescriptions at Tomah grew by over 500 percent from 2004-to-2012, and that a Marine died from an overdose. The Tomah hospital is under an ongoing investigation by VA and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Baldwin in turn came under fire when whistleblower Ryan Honl said he tried working with her office after finding out she had OIG the report, but stayed silent for months. Baldwin fired her deputy state director of constituent services, Marquette Baylor. The Perkins Coie report did not refer to Baylor by name.

Kind pleased with progress at Tomah VA

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

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

Wisconsin Congressman Ron Kind says he’s happy to see action to fix a problem with opiate prescriptions at the Tomah VA Hospital.

Kind talked about his meeting in Tomah at the VA Hospital during an appearance at UW-Stevens Point on Wednesday. He met with VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson at the facility on Tuesday and talked with veterans and their families.

Kind stresses that despite the obvious missteps with prescriptions, that’s not the whole story at the Hospital. “We don’t want the narrative to develop that it’s all bad at Tomah. There’s a lot of quality care being given to our veterans there.” He says that he’s had many veterans come forward since the start of the controversy to say the care they’ve received from the VA is excellent.

A full congressional hearing is planned at the Tomah Hospital on March 30, and Kind says that sort of attention is crucial. “The point of these investigations is simple. If there’s a problem, we need to fix it so that all the veterans going there are getting quality care and treatment they’ve earned and they deserve.” He is also looking for Congress to take a step back and look past the Tomah hospital and to the nation’s hospitals as a whole. “I think we’ve got an opiate pain medication problem systemwide. Not just within the VA system, but the entire healthcare system.”

Kind has also asked the VA Medical Centers in Madison, Milwaukee and Minneapolis to explain what steps they are taking to implement improvements in pain management.

Raymond Neupert, WSAU

Federal VA officials visit Tomah VA Medical Center

A top Veterans Administration official is in Tomah Tuesday as part of the investigation into over prescribing opiate pain killers to veterans.

VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson plans to be at the Tomah VA Medical Center Tuesday morning. His office confirmed Gibson will talk to employees, facility leadership, and stakeholders throughout the morning. He does plan to make brief remarks to the media after his series of meetings.

This is not the only time Washington will be sending officials to Tomah. Congressman Sean Duffy confirmed Monday that the House Veterans Affairs Committee will have a field hearing in Tomah as part of their own investigation into prescription and veterans care issues. That hearing will begin at 1:00 p.m. at the VA Medical Center on March 30th. Duffy says he is grateful Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, “recognized the magnitude of the situation and heeded the request.”