By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
Kind has since early January sent out 13 press releases since a prescription drug abuse scandal broke. A review of Kind’s press release archives, however, shows prior to the scandal the VA, in the Democrat’s western Wisconsin congressional district, wasn’t much on the long-time politician’s radar.
Kind, D-LaCrosse, issued no bold action statements in the months after Kind reported a whistleblower complained in September 2011 narcotics were being over-prescribed at Tomah center.
The releases from Kind’s office really don’t mention the VA medical center at all and certainly make no references to reports of problems.
That may be because Kind had no idea what, if anything, had been done to address the first whistleblower complaint.
As Wisconsin Watchdog reported last month, the congressman forwarded the complaint to a VA inspector general hotline. But he never followed up.
“Dear VA General:
“I received the attached anonymous complaint from a constituent concerning Dr. David Houlihan at VA Tomah. I have no further information to provide and I am forwarding this complaint to your office for your review,” Kind wrote in a note dated Sept. 29, 2011.
The anonymous letter, in part, led to an inspector general’s examination of reports of over-prescribing of opiates at VA hospitals across the country, an official in Kind’s office told Wisconsin Watchdog last month.
Kind makes no mention the inspector general might be looking into the matter. That report was not made public until years later.
Two months after he passed along the Tomah complaint, Kind released a statement expressing his disappointment in the so-called Supercommittee’s failure to reach a deal by that point on long-term deficit reduction proposal. The press release’s headline: A Missed Opportunity.
In July 2014 Kind referred to Wisconsin’s VA medical centers in passing in a release calling for action on the “negligent treatment and substandard care within the VA system.” The congressman’s urgent call made no mention of Tomah.
“After repeated visits across the state and many conversations with Wisconsin veterans, we remain convinced that our Wisconsin facilities continue to provide quality care,” Kind wrote in a letter he co-authored with U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, and Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee.
Like the pleas of whistleblowers like former Tomah VA center employee Ryan Honl, the complaint that came to Kind went nowhere fast with the VA and some members of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation.
Honl said he encountered problems getting through to the offices of Kind, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, and U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison. Baldwin and her staff appear to have done nothing with the information for months after receiving it.
The VA inspector general’s report was completed in March 2014, but it was not publicly released.
Stories broke in January alleging abuse at Tomah, including the death by overdose of Marine Corps veteran Jason Simcakoski, 35, last August. Simcakoski died just days after chief of staff Dr. David Houlihan, referred to at the hospital as the “Candy Man,” reportedly added another opiate to the veteran’s medication regimen.
Houlihan was reassigned to the VA regional office.
Kind’s latest release Tuesday, said he would participate in a town hall meeting for the public at the Tomah medical center on Thursday afternoon. Dr. Carolyn Clancy, VA interim secretary for Health, will also speak.
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