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Ron Kind now solving Tomah VA scandal one press release at a time

By   /   May 6, 2015  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 20 of 47 in the series Tomah VA Scandal

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON, Wis. – U.S. Rep. Ron Kind is making up for lost years, firing off a flurry of press releases suggesting he’s on a mission to fix what ails the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

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.

AP file photo

NO RELEASE: U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, has issued a lot of press releases since receiving a complaint about painkiller overpresription practices at the Tomah VA Medical Center, none of them expressing concern about possible abuse.

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.

In the interim, the Democrat who pundits call a potential candidate for Wisconsin governor has busied himself firing off several scathing criticisms of Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

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.


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


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.