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VA secretary nominee faces little resistance, lots of challenges

By   /   February 9, 2017  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 43 of 47 in the series Tomah VA Scandal

MADISON, Wis. – Unlike many of President Donald Trump’s other cabinet picks, David Shulkin’s nomination for VA secretary has been relatively smooth sailing.

Photo by AP

‘WORTH SAVING’: VA secretary nominee David Shulkin stands on the verge of confirmation. Can he save the VA by keeping it intact?

The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee this week unanimously approved Shulkin’s nomination, sending it to the full Senate.

But as the Washington Examiner has noted, Shulkin, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs undersecretary of health, “faces the unique challenge of overhauling” a troubled health care system “he’s spent the past two years defending.”

Some whistleblowers, employees and veterans advocates have misgivings about naming an entrenched member of VA leadership to the top administrative spot. They continue to be concerned that the same people who allowed misconduct, dangerous medical practices and retaliation against whistleblowers at hospitals like the scandal-plagued  Tomah VA Medical Center are now being rewarded with promotions.

Tomah was the subject of congressional investigations for its opioid prescription policies that led to the death of a Marine veteran. Whistleblowers said they were retaliated against, and some patients who complained were treated terribly, according to multiple sources.

Last month, the VA tapped Victoria Brahm to lead the troubled Tomah VA Medical Center.

Brahm has served since October 2015 as acting director of the southwest Wisconsin hospital once described as “Candyland” for its practice of overprescribing painkillers.

A VA official said  in a deposition that Brahm had received significant evidence of opiate abuse before the abuses came to light in January 2015. Brahm, who was the regional office’s nurse executive at the time, determined that there was no truth to the reports, according to the deposition.

RELATED: Opinions differ on whether its ‘meet the new boss, same as the old boss,’ at Tomah VA

On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson met with Shulkin. The Oshkosh Republican said he stressed his concerns about veterans’ care and whistleblower protections during the afternoon meeting with the nominee.

“The finest among us, our nation’s veterans, deserve the highest level of care,” Johnson said in a statement. “If Dr. Shulkin is confirmed, I will continue to use my position as Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs to ensure that veterans have access to the health services they need, irresponsible VA employees are held accountable and VA whistleblowers are protected.”

In May, Johnson’s committee released an exhaustive report on the “culture of fear” that contributed to the deaths and maltreatment of veterans at Tomah.

“The Systemic Failures and Preventable Tragedies at the Tomah VA Medication Center” lays out a long list of misconduct, abuse, and retaliation charges over several years, and nearly as many red flags that critics say, had they been heeded, could have saved lives.

Shulkin doesn’t see a department in need radical change or widespread firings, even as his would-be boss once described the VA as “the most corrupt” federal agency. The nominee has no interest in privatizing the VA’s single-payer health care system. 

“VA is a unique national resource that is worth saving, and I am committed to doing just that,” Shulkin said in prepared remarks obtained by Associated Press. “There will be far greater accountability, dramatically improved access, responsiveness and expanded care options, but the Department of Veterans Affairs will not be privatized under my watch.”

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.