April 28, 2015

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.”


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.