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Sources: Ron Kind received call from Jason Simcakoski not long before Marine’s tragic death

By   /   May 22, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 16 of 47 in the series Tomah VA Scandal

MADISON, Wis. – U.S. Rep. Ron Kind has often pleaded ignorance about the abuses that have plagued the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the misery created in its wake.

The La Crosse Democrat’s staff told USA Today last year that he had no recollection or record of receiving a 2009 whistleblower memo detailing the myriad problems at the hospital.

When an investigative report exposed wide-ranging painkiller overprescription like the “toxic cocktail” believed to have killed 35-year-old Marine Corps veteran Jason Simcakoski as an in-patient at Tomah, Kind sounded stunned.

“This is unacceptable. We can’t have our VAs functioning like this,” Kind said.

AP file photo

THE CALL: What did Rep. Ron Kind, D-LaCrosse, know and when did he know it? Sources tell Watchdog that the congressman’s office received a phone call from Marine Jason Simcakoski shortly before the veteran died of a drug overdose at the Tomah VA medical center.

But multiple sources tell Wisconsin Watchdog that Simcakoski called Kind’s office shortly before the Marine died on Aug. 30, 2014. A subsequent report showed Simcakoski had been prescribed 15 drugs, including muscle relaxers, tranquilizers, anti-psychotic medicines and opioid painkillers.

Wisconsin Watchdog has obtained several emails from sources close to the situation showing that the phone records have been recovered through an investigation. They may be released as part of a 300-page report to be issued by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. As Wisconsin Watchdog first reported last week, the committee will hold a field hearing in Tomah on May 31 at the Cranberry Country Lodge in Tomah. The VA’s new inspector general has been called to testify.

Ryan Honl, a former Tomah VA hospital employee and one of the lead whistleblowers who helped expose the opioid abuses and culture of retaliation, is one of the sources confirming the existence of the phone records.

“Congressman Ron Kind, when will you respond to press inquiries about the Jason Simcakoski phone call your office received?  Still scurrying to get your hands on those records?” Honl wrote in a Facebook post over the weekend.

Kind’s office has not returned several requests for comment from Wisconsin Watchdog.

RELATED: Senate field hearing to shine more light on Tomah VA scandal

A Washington, D.C. insider familiar with the committee investigation also confirmed the existence of the records, as do emails from the Simcakoski family.

Kind has done much since January 2015 to push for investigations into and reforms to the VA health care system, but Honl and the congressman’s other critics say he could have done much more earlier on. Had he responded sooner, they say, Simcakoski and other veterans under the care of Tomah’s former chief of staff Dr. David Houlihan might still be alive.

Houlihan, known as the “Candy Man” for his prescription practices, was fired last November.

In 2011, Kind received an anonymous complaint about the over-prescription issues. Kind merely sent the letter on to a VA inspector general hotline, something anyone could have done.

“Dear VA General:

“I received the attached anonymous complaint from a constituent concerning Dr. David Houlihan at VA Tomah. I have no further information to provide and I am forwarding this complaint to your office for your review,” Kind wrote in a note dated Sept. 29, 2011.

An official in Kind’s office said the congressman’s forwarding of the anonymous letter in part led to the inspector general’s eventual examination of reports of over-prescribing of opiates at VA hospitals across the country. That report was not made public.

It turns out Kind merely sent the letter on to a VA inspector general hotline, something anyone could have done.

“Dear VA General:

“I received the attached anonymous complaint from a constituent concerning Dr. David Houlihan at VA Tomah. I have no further information to provide and I am forwarding this complaint to your office for your review,” Kind wrote in a note dated Sept. 29, 2011.

An official in Kind’s office said the congressman’s forwarding of the anonymous letter in part led to the inspector general’s eventual examination of reports of over-prescribing of opiates at VA hospitals across the country. That report was not made public.

It is clear that Kind, whose district includes Tomah, did not follow up with the inspector general’s office.

Peter Knudsen, the congressman’s spokesman,  offered a politically careful answer when asked in January 2015 by the Center for Investigative Reporting what Kind had done since. He said Kind was “disappointed that it’s taken so long” for any action, but “he is in contact with officials at the VA and also people with knowledge of the situation in Tomah.”

Honl, who at one time considered running for Kind’s congressional seat, said Kind repeatedly took the word of Houlihan and other Tomah administrators at the peril of veterans.

Honl has nothing but criticism for Kind’s handling of the many complaints Honl said came to the congressman.

AP file photo

HONL AND OBAMA: Ryan Honl, one of the lead whistleblowers in exposing the VA medical center, was introduced to President Obama by Ron Kind at an event last year in La Crosse. Honl said Obama did nothing about his concerns involving the hospital.

“Ron Kind ignored whistleblowers including myself and Jason Simcakoski,” the former Tomah VA employee wrote. “Ron Kind in my case took the Tomah VA leadership’s word over mine and apparently others throughout the years.  He used the excuse of ‘losing’ my complaint in a statement to USA TODAY.  According to witnesses he met with the Tomah VA facility director as late as November 2014, two months after I sent my complaint to him and two months before the abuse at Tomah became public.

“If Ron Kind was in communication with Jason Simcakoski before his death I think it’s safe to say (Simcakoski) wasn’t calling his DC office about the weather.  According to the family, Jason had gone to Houlihan as well as the Tomah VA police chief, and the FBI concerning drug dealing on Tomah VA grounds including veterans selling their prescribed narcotic.  Now we find out he went to Ron kind’s DC office.  All of Jason’s complaints landed back at the facility and now he’s dead.  His own complaints about drug diversion and drug dealing in the facility signed his own death warrant. The committee and the family have those phone records and the public deserves to see them.”

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.