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Senate field hearing to shine more light on Tomah VA scandal

By   /   May 19, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 24 of 47 in the series Tomah VA Scandal

MADISON, Wis. – Things may soon get a whole lot more problematic for the Democrats who claim they had no idea about the deadly abuses that occurred at the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, recently told WisconsinEye that the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a field hearing in Tomah. Wisconsin Watchdog has learned the hearing is scheduled for May 31 at the Cranberry Country Lodge in Tomah.

“We’re going to be publishing about a 300-page report, I’m going through it now, that is going to lay out even more information in terms of the abuses at Tomah and really the problems within our VA health care system,” Johnson, chairman of the committee, said in an interview at last weekend’s state GOP convention.

A source with knowledge of the hearing tells Wisconsin Watchdog that it will include Jason Simcakoski’s phone records showing the Marine veteran called the Washington, D.C., office of U.S. Rep. Ron Kind shortly before he died in August 2014.

AP file photo

TO TOMAH: A Senate commission chaired by Sen. Ron Johnson will hold another field hearing later this month in Tomah. The hearing is expected to offer new insight into the over-prescription scandal at the hospital.

A Veterans Affairs Department investigation last year into Simcakoski’s death found staff failed to properly prescribe medications and “blundered the medical response when the veteran was found unresponsive in his bed,” according to the Military Times.

The report showed Simcakoski died Aug. 30, 2014, from a “mixed drug toxicity,” the result of taking 13 prescribed medications, including several that cause respiratory depression, in a 24-hour period.

Whistleblowers attempted to alert Kind, a La Crosse Democrat, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, and then-Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Middleton, who is running to regain the seat he lost to Johnson in 2010.

Baldwin’s office clearly mishandled reports of the over-prescription of opioids and retaliatory conduct at the hospital. She ended up blaming and firing an aide in the aftermath. The aide alleged Baldwin used her as a scapegoat to cover up her own culpability. Baldwin’s friends in the Senate dismissed the complaints.

Feingold and Kind claim they never saw memos that were marked “hand-delivered” to their offices. A former Tomah employee who blew the whistle on the abuses has challenged those claims. The argument is at the heart of an issue ad attacking Feingold for failing to respond.

Baldwin, who is a member of the committee, and Kind have been invited to the hearing.

RELATED: Feingold’s facts fail again in face of Tomah scandal

Johnson said the only way to reform a broken bureaucracy is to “shine the light of day on it, and to have a transparent, independent inspector general.” That’s why he has invited Michael Missal, appointed last year as the Department of Veterans Affairs inspector general, to testify.

Tomah was the site of a rare and highly emotional congressional field hearing in March 2015 in which it was learned that dozens of veterans had died under suspicious circumstances under the leadership of the hospital’s chief of staff, Dr. David Houlihan. He was subsequently fired.

“We are doing everything we can to make sure these tragedies don’t happen to others,” Johnson told a packed audience of 400 veterans and family members at the Cranberry Country Lodge at that hearing.

A number of reforms have been proposed — and a few have been enacted — in the wake of the scandal.

Asked about a report that wait times are getting longer at Tomah, Johnson said that would not surprise him. He said it continues to be difficult to “get information out of any government agency.”

What Wisconsin has learned, Johnson said, is the many failings of a single-payer health care system.

“The VA health care system is a single-payer, government-run bureaucratic system,” the senator said. “By the way, that’s exactly what Sen. Feingold wants for all of Wisconsin. He was one of the 60 deciding votes for Obamacare.”

“He wanted a single-payer system. Well, now Wisconsin knows what a single-payer, government-run bureaucratic health care system looks like.”

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.