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Tammy Baldwin silent on her failures as she blasts Tomah VA medical center

By   /   August 11, 2015  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 21 of 47 in the series Tomah VA Scandal

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.

AP file photo

‘SACRED TRUST’: Missing from U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s withering criticism of the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center’s reported failures related to the death of a Marine Corps veteran is the senator’s failure to act on whistleblower complaints.

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.

RELATED: Baldwin aide breaks silence, alleges senator engaged in ‘cover-up’

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.”

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and U.S. Rep. Ron Kind also have been knocked for failing to follow-up on reports of abuses at the Tomah medical center, but not to the degree Baldwin has.

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.”

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.