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Senate committee asking if FBI missed the call in veteran’s death at VA

By   /   September 16, 2015  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 7 of 47 in the series Tomah VA Scandal

MADISON, Wisconsin – A lot of people in the federal government failed Marine Corps veteran Jason Simcakoski.

Now it appears the Federal Bureau of Investigation is on that list.

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, this week sent a letter to FBI director James B. Comey Jr. Johnson wants to know if and how the FBI handled contacts from Simcakoski reportedly about illegal activity at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Tomah.

AP file photo

JASON SIMCAKOSKI: Fallen veteran failed by the system.

Simcakoski contacted the agency before he died of a prescription drug overdose in the care of the hospital.

“Tragically, nearly 10 months after contacting the FBI, Jason Simcakoski died while under the treatment of VA doctors,” writes Johnson, chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

The committee is investigating allegations of “veteran deaths, drug diversion, opiate over-prescriptions, retaliations against whistleblowers, and a culture of fear among employees at the Tomah medical center.”

The committee also is looking into the VA Office of the inspector general’s health-care inspection of the facility, as well as conducting oversight of the U.S. Department of Justice’s work relating allegations about the hospital.

Media reports, led by the Center for Investigative Journalism, in January began detailing the alarmingly high opioid prescription practices by psychiatric staff, and a failure by government officials — including federal lawmakers – to follow-up on whistleblower accounts of the abuses.

That appears to include the warnings issued by a Simcakoski, a veteran dead at 35.

On March 30, the Homeland Security committee held a joint field hearing with the House Committee on Veterans Affairs to examine the allegations. At the hearing, Simcakoski’s widow, Heather Simcakoski, testified that her husband contacted the FBI and other law enforcement entities about potential drug diversion and other illegal activities at the VA medical center.

“She noted that she possessed two cell phones containing both text and voicemail messages detailing conversations Jason had with law enforcement before he died,” Johnson writes in his letter.

The committee, he said, subsequently found that the former Marine placed multiple calls to the FBI field office in La Crosse in November 2013.

“It is unclear, however, what Mr. Simcakoski told the FBI or whether the FBI took any actions in response,” Johnson states.

That’s why the committee is asking the FBI to provide:

  1. Records of all communications between the FBI offices and Simcakoski.
  2. Explain the subject matter and substance of Simcakoski’s communications with the FBI, including the dates of the communications and parties involved.
  3. Explain the actions, if any, the FBI took in response to the information received from Simcakoski.
  4. Explain whether the FBI’s La Crosse, Wisconsin, field office shared information obtained with the FBI’s Milwaukee division.
  5. Explain whether the FBI shared information obtained with any other federal state or local law-enforcement entity.

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

Simcakoski died Aug. 30, 2014, of “mixed drug toxicity” while in the hospital’s short-stay mental health union, according to reports. In a 24-hour period, he had taken 13 prescribed medications, including several known to cause respiratory depression.

There have been a lot of “missed opportunities” along the way.

A VA inspector general’s report detailing some of the concerns about painkiller over-prescription was completed in March 2014, but it was not publicly disclosed.

Whistleblowers from inside the medical center have said they encountered problems getting through to the offices of U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-Lacrosse, as well as Johnson. U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, and her staff appear to have done nothing with reports of abuse at the medical center for months after receiving them.

Baldwin blamed the communication problems on staffers, and she fired one of her aides. That has cost the senator an ethics investigation.

Baldwin has since introduced the Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act, bipartisan VA reform legislation “aimed at providing safer and more effective pain management services to our nation’s veterans.”

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.