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After damaging silence, Baldwin now calls for probe of troubled VA center

By   /   January 29, 2015  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 1 of 47 in the series Tomah VA Scandal

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON, Wis. — U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin is now calling for a “broad and detailed” investigation of the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the VA system after bombshell reports of mass overprescribing of opiates, which may have led to the death of a Marine Corps veteran.

But the Wisconsin Democrat’s urgent news release doesn’t note she might have called for a thorough examination months earlier had her office not sat on a report detailing opiate abuses at the Tomah facility.

“A broad and detailed investigation of both the Tomah VA and relevant aspects of the national VA health system will provide much-needed accountability and information that will allow us to decide how we can best improve the delivery of timely and highest-quality care to veterans in Wisconsin and throughout the country,” Baldwin wrote in a letter this week to the VA’s lead investigator, Dr. Carolyn Clancy.

AP file photo

AFTER THE SILENCE: Months after her office failed to follow up on whistleblower reports of serious medical issues at the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin is now asking a VA investigator to talk to whistleblowers.

Baldwin encourages Clancy to meet with the whistleblowers who have raised myriad concerns, including allegations of retaliation by medical center administrators, and to “do so in a manner that allows individuals to be forthcoming.”

But Baldwin’s staff appears to have given the cold shoulder to whistleblower Ryan Honl, who has said he urged the senator to follow-up on an inspection report she received last summer laying out high amounts of painkillers prescribed at the Tomah facility.

Honl, according to a USA Today story earlier this month, learned in November that Baldwin’s office had been in possession of the report for months and had not acted on it. He repeatedly emailed the senator’s office asking that she do something to help the veterans, according to copies of the emails obtained by USA Today.

Baldwin and her office went dark immediately following the revelations. Then the senator suggested for a time her staff handled the matter appropriately. In recent days she has fired her deputy state director and offered the staffer a severance deal that includes a closed-mouth, confidentiality clause.

Baldwin has declined to answer questions on the firing, calling it a personnel matter. Her office has not returned multiple calls and emails from Wisconsin Reporter seeking comment.

In full damage-control mode last week, Baldwin wrote an op-ed piece suggesting her office could have done more.

“In the fall, as we weighed next steps and additional concerns about problems at the Tomah VA were brought to our attention, we should have done a better job listening to and communicating with another constituent with whom we were working on problems at the VA,” she wrote in the column headlined, “We can do better for Wisconsin veterans.”

Now, the senator wants the system fixed, appearing front and center in demanding an immediate, “broad and detailed” investigation.

Honl did not return calls from Wisconsin Reporter seeking comment Thursday, but in online responses to media stories the whistleblower keeps the heat on Baldwin.

In her letter, Baldwin acknowledges her office received the report on Aug. 29, 2014, and “did not address Mr. Simcakoski’s death because the report was completed five months earlier in March 2014.” Baldwin refers to Jason Simcakoski, a Marine Corps veteran who died at 35 of a fatal overdose while an inpatient at the Tomah VA facility.

“However, we have learned about some of the disturbing circumstances surrounding his death, and I believe this deserves your full attention,” Baldwin wrote to Clancy.

In his online response last week, Honl noted that Baldwin had not “committed to meeting with whistleblowers,” although now the senator is asking the VA’s lead inspector to do so.

“Senator Baldwin will be held to account for her direct failure of responsibilities to understand the gravity of what she was sitting on,” he wrote. “And who’s the only office that hasn’t or hasn’t committed to meeting with the whistleblowers here in Tomah even after the news this week? Senator Baldwin. Haven’t heard thing from her office since last year when all I got was feigned and fake concerns from lower level staff who are probably hiding in a cave right now.”

“There is nothing she can do at this point to gain my respect except a MAJOR mea culpa and a public statement of the facts, not what she released to the public …” Honl added.

Part of 47 in the series Tomah VA Scandal
  1. After damaging silence, Baldwin now calls for probe of troubled VA center
  2. Legal expert says U.S. Sen Tammy Baldwin is in full ‘damage control’
  3. Baldwin aide breaks silence, alleges senator engaged in ‘coverup’
  4. Baldwin’s public relations team kicks into high gear following ethics complaint
  5. Ethics watchdog urges Senate committee to investigate Baldwin
  6. Tammy Baldwin’s political fixer is helping Hillary attack voter ID
  7. Senate committee asking if FBI missed the call in veteran’s death at VA
  8. When lawmakers failed Wisconsin’s veterans
  9. Is political pressure behind Lin Ellinghuysen’s differing accounts on VA memo?
  10. Bernie Sanders failed to act in deadly VA scandal, whistleblower says
  11. Does government union chief’s threat show AFGE’s hand on veterans care?
  12. What would Russ Feingold’s 1992 self say to the 2015 version?
  13. Ad attacking Feingold asserts veterans died because of ‘politicians who looked the other way’
  14. Feingold’s campaign caught up in VA scandal memo war
  15. PolitiFact Wisconsin trusts Russ Feingold to deliver its facts
  16. Sources: Ron Kind received call from Jason Simcakoski not long before Marine’s tragic death
  17. Captain Campaign Finance Reform, Russ Feingold, changes ‘dark money’ tune
  18. Baldwin talks transparency while keeping her secrets in Tomah VA scandal
  19. Ron Kind knew about Tomah VA abuse years before the story broke
  20. Ron Kind now solving Tomah VA scandal one press release at a time
  21. Tammy Baldwin silent on her failures as she blasts Tomah VA medical center
  22. Tomah VA whistleblower says he’s getting pressure from unhappy Dems
  23. Feingold’s facts fail again in face of Tomah scandal
  24. Senate field hearing to shine more light on Tomah VA scandal
  25. Tomah VA supervisor accused of misconduct gets promoted
  26. Senate hearing to look deeper into scandal-plagued Tomah VA hospital
  27. Kind flees questions, Senate committee turns up heat on Tomah VA hospital scandal
  28. Report: Tomah VA hospital story is one of ‘systemic failures’
  29. Tomah VA hospital whistleblower: ‘It will not change’
  30. Ron Kind breaks silence on call from veteran victim at Tomah VA hospital
  31. VA union holds rally to save itself, Tomah whistleblower says
  32. Sound familiar? Illinois Rep. Tammy Duckworth accused of retaliation at VA
  33. Emails say Tomah VA patient reached out to Feingold, Kind, in 2008 about abuse
  34. Johnson: Hold accountable those who put Tomah veterans at risk of HIV, hepatitis
  35. Veteran jumps out of third-floor window at Tomah VA hospital
  36. Tomah VA employee: ‘We have forgotten who we work for’
  37. Congressional committees want answers on Tomah VA hospital
  38. Senators ask Pence, Trump transition team, to hold troubled VA accountable
  39. Veterans advocate: VA hospitals’ ‘improvement’ doesn’t tell whole story
  40. Tomah VA Medical Center’s ‘Candy Man’ stripped of license
  41. Opinions differ on whether it’s ‘meet the new boss, same as the old boss’ at Tomah VA
  42. Latest data show Tomah VA hospital improving in opioid prescriptions, veteran satisfaction
  43. VA secretary nominee faces little resistance, lots of challenges
  44. Insiders: Tomah VA troubles continue with nurse shortage, neglectful care
  45. VA whistleblower has questions for Congressman Ron Kind
  46. Johnson brings back whistleblower protection bill as Sunshine Week opens
  47. Iraq war veteran burned by ‘very frustrating process’ at VA

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M.D. Kittle is bureau chief of Wisconsin Watchdog and First Amendment Reporter for Watchdog.org. Kittle is a 25-year veteran of print, broadcast and online media. He is the recipient of several awards for journalism excellence from The Associated Press, Inland Press, the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, and others. He is also a member of Investigative Reporters & Editors. Kittle's extensive series on Wisconsin's unconstitutional John Doe investigations was the basis of a 2014 documentary on Glenn Beck's TheBlaze. His work has been featured in Town Hall, Fox News, NewsMax, and other national publications, and his reporting has been cited by news outlets nationwide. Kittle is a fill-in talk show host on the Jay Weber Show and the Vicki McKenna Show in Milwaukee and Madison.