For the second time this week, how federal lawmakers responded to reports of opiate abuse at the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center is coming up in Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate race.
Democratic candidate Russ Feingold’s campaign released an ad Thursday criticizing how Republican Sen. Ron Johnson’s (R-WI) office handled a tip raising concerns about the over-prescription of opiate painkillers at the facility, and then later blamed the problem on staff turnover. A whistle-blower had raised the concern to the Wisconsin Republican’s staff, but Johnson has said he was not made aware of the problems until an Inspector Generals report was made public in January of last year.
The ad highlight comments Johnson made to WTAQ radio in Green Bay last year, in which he said the tip received in 2014 may not have been missed “had this not occurred during an election cycle, when there’s an awful lot of turnover…when people are looking at doing job interviews and stuff.”
Feingold is running to regain the seat he lost to Johnson in the 2010 election. The Democrat’s own handling of reports about opiate abuse at Tomah was also the focus of a campaign ad this week, released by the Freedom Partners Action Fund, a group tied to billionaires Charles and David Koch. That ad features a whistle-blower at Tomah who accuses Feingold of ignoring a 2009 memo when he was still in the Senate that raised concerns about harm to veterans.
Feingold’s campaign has said there’s no proof the memo was ever actually delivered to his office..
Responding to the Feingold ad in a statement, Wisconsin Republican Party spokesman Pat Garrett said “Senator Feingold has repeatedly stood on the wrong side of veterans and dodged responsibility for his failure to take action in the tragic situation in Tomah. He can create excuses and blame others to protect his political career, but Feingold can’t escape the fact that for years he ignored a whistleblower’s cry for help when our veterans needed him.”