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Ad attacking Feingold asserts veterans died because of ‘politicians who looked the other way’

By   /   May 3, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 13 of 47 in the series Tomah VA Scandal

MADISON, Wis. – One of the whistleblowers who helped expose the deadly over-prescription scandal at the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center is hitting U.S. Senate candidate Russ Feingold hard in a new political ad highlighting the failures of lawmakers to address the problem.

“I found out that Russ Feingold got a memo in 2009 that outlined veteran harm. And nothing was done. Russ Feingold ignored veterans’ concerns while veterans where dying at the facility,” Ryan Honl, a veteran and former employee at the medical facility, says in the 60-second TV ad.

The spot is part of a $2 million TV campaign launched by the Freedom Partners Action Fund, a conservative super PAC launched by billionaire free-market advocates Charles and David Koch.

Feingold, a Middleton Democrat who boasted one of the most liberal voting records in his 18 years in the U.S. Senate, is trying to reclaim the seat he lost to Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, in the 2010 election.

AP file photo

WHISTLEBLOWER AND OBAMA: Ryan Honl, a former employee at the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Tomah, Wis., talks with President Barack Obama last summer about the deadly health care scandal at the facility. Honl said Obama offered platitudes, no action.

Honl, a Johnson supporter, has been very critical of Feingold’s handling of a letter a union official provided his office in 2009, a couple of years before a Marine Corps veteran died of an overdose of painkillers at the Tomah facility. The letter warned of an array of problems, including over-prescription at a VA center that has been described as “Candy Land.”

“All those veterans have come back wounded and they died at the hands of politicians who looked the other way,” Honl says, fighting back tears. “I just want the voters to know the real story.”

Gannett Media in October reported Feingold and U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, did not do anything with a 2009 memo from AFGE local president (vice president at the time) Lin Ellinghuysen detailing the abuses at the Tomah VA Medical Center. The memo was marked hand-delivered, but Feingold and Kind deny ever having seen it.

Ellinghuysen has since said she doesn’t believe the document was ever delivered to the lawmakers

RELATED: Is political pressure behind Lin Ellinghuysen’s differing accounts on VA memo? 

In an interview earlier this year with Wisconsin Watchdog, Ellinghuysen acknowledged the Gannett reporter’s requests about Feingold’s involvement were making some people nervous.

“I was getting calls from AFGE national,” she said. “A lot of people were hearing there was going to be some kind of negative article on Feingold.”

“I knew what this was going to be about and I didn’t want to be part of it,” Ellinghuysen said.

“Now the union president here in Tomah is saying I am betraying the union. It’s politics for the Democrats. … They’ve circled the wagons about what’s going on at the VA,” Honl said following the revelations. “Russ Feingold, Tammy Baldwin, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, they all want the VA to be a model of health care and it’s not. The unions, all they care about is their federal jobs. They put those jobs ahead of veterans.

“If they cared about what happening with the veterans, why wouldn’t (the union) go to everybody, including the Republicans” with the complaints of abuse, Honl added. “But the union just goes to the Democrats.”

Ellinghuysen told Wisconsin Watchdog that the union did not forward the letter to Wisconsin’s congressional Republicans.

“We didn’t even talk to Republicans then,” Ellinghuysen said, adding that as president of the local she makes a better effort these days of reaching out to all members of the delegation.

Honl also has accused Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders of failing to do anything about the abuse allegations when the current presidential candidate was chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

Wisconsin junior Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, took the brunt of the criticism. It was her office that dropped the ball after whistleblowers begged the senator to look into the matter.

In the wake of the scandal, Baldwin fired a staff member, who then filed an ethics complaint alleging that Baldwin attempted to cover up her failure. The senator’s colleagues did not charge her.

A day after the anti-Feingold ad hit the airwaves, Baldwin was sending out press releases about her Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act.

Simcakoski was the Marine who died of the drug overdose in Tomah.

The bipartisan reforms are aimed at providing “safer and more effective pain management services to our nation’s veterans.”

“I am grateful to the members of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs for their bipartisan support of the Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act as this critical VA reform continues to move forward. Families like the Simcakoski family have a story to tell that needs to be heard,” Baldwin said in the statement.

Her critics say the families and the whistleblowers did have a story to tell. Unfortunately, Baldwin did not listen early on when lives could have been saved.

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.