By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Watchdog
MADISON, Wis. — Something was missing in U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s statement last week criticizing staff at the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
The Department Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General Office released a report finding psychiatrists at the facility failed to discuss the health hazards of synthetic opiates they prescribed to Marine Corps veteran Jason Simcakoski.
The 35-year-old Simcakoski died in August 2014 after he was prescribed a fatal mixture of opiates and Valium, although the report did leave open the possibility Simcakoski could have taken additional doses.
“This report confirms that the Tomah VA physicians entrusted with Jason’s care failed to keep their promise to a Wisconsin Marine and his family,” Baldwin stated in her stern news release. “I have all the evidence I need to conclude that the VA prescribed Jason a deadly mix of drugs that led to his death and that those responsible for this tragic failure should never again serve our veterans and their families.
“The sacred trust we have with those who faithfully serve our country has been broken and it needs to be fixed,” she added.
The Madison Democrat failed to mention she did nothing with an inspector general’s report last year, preceding Simcakoski’s death, outlining concerns of over prescribing of painkillers at the Tomah facility. Baldwin did not note in her rebuke that she refused to act when a whistleblower reportedly begged the senator’s office to do something.
Also missing from the release is the fact Baldwin is the subject of a potentially damning Senate ethics complaint filed against her by the former aide she blamed for the communication failure.
Baldwin fired her deputy state director, Marquette Baylor, in February. Baylor’s complaint, filed a couple of months later, claims the senator lied and has engaged in a political cover-up.
“I, Marquette Baylor, bring this Ethics Complaint against my former employer, Senator Tammy Baldwin, for making false statements and representations to cover up actions by her Chief of Staff and protect her political career,” Baylor stated in the complaint.
Baldwin’s spokesman has said Baylor has “chosen to be used as a pawn by Senator Baldwin’s right-wing Republican opponents in what is nothing more than a political hit job…”
Kevin Nicholson, a member of the Wisconsin Board of Veterans Affairs and a veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, said Baldwin has demanded accountability from the VA while refusing to be accountable herself.
“(C)ertainly she knew about the misconduct — the overprescription of opiates, the mixed-drug issues going on for quite a long time but did nothing about it for at least a half a year or so until the issue started getting reported in the media,” Nicholson told Wisconsin Watchdog on Monday on the Vicki McKenna Show on Newstalk 1310 WIBA.
Simcakoski’s case is not an exception. It’s part of a systemic failure in a single-payer health-care system plagued with problems, Nicholson said. Baldwin wringing her hands and saying she is upset isn’t enough, the veteran said.
“It takes a larger, big-picture to realize that, ‘Hey, there’s probably something wrong with the VA if every time you turn around and there’s another serious issue at play — whether it’s wait times or misrepresented wait times or over prescription of drugs,” Nicholson said.
“Continually you find patients in positions where they have no recourse other than to contact U.S. senators who may or may not be responsive.”
Baldwin has introduced a bill named for Simcakoski seeking to limit opiate prescriptions within the VA system.
But Nicholson said much more remains to be done to fix a broken federal agency.
“We keep going through these scandals over and over again,” he said. “We need to remove the bureaucracy.”
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