The Corner

Get Ready to Hear a Lot More About the Tomah VA Scandal

From the first Morning Jolt of this short week:

Get Ready to Hear a Lot More About the Tomah VA Scandal

Today the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs will hold a field hearing in Tomah, Wisconsin, reviewing allegations that government agencies silenced whistleblowers’ concerns and put veterans at risk in a painkiller scandal at the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

At least three people — including Tomah VA director Mario DeSanctis, chief of staff David Houlihan, and a nurse practitioner — lost their jobs after the overprescribing scandal came to light. Houlihan was known to veterans as the “Candy Man” because of the quantities of drugs he prescribed, the VA found.

Marine Veteran Jason Simcakoski died in 2014 of a drug overdose at the facility. Whistleblowers have said other veterans also died as a result of the care they received in Tomah.

If the Tomah VA controversy sounds familiar, it’s because it’s become a major issue in Wisconsin’s Senate race. Six years ago, conservative businessman Ron Johnson defeated incumbent Democrat Russ Feingold; now the Democrat wants to win back his seat and avenge his 2010 loss.

The chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs is . . . Ron Johnson.

Freedom Partners Action Fund has put together a detailed timeline of the Tomah painkiller scandal – including the key question of whether the problems at the VA were reported to Feingold’s office back in Summer 2008.

It wouldn’t be a Wisconsin political story if it didn’t feature a public-employee union; in this case, Feingold says that despite the markings on a memo, the public-sector union never passed along warnings about the VA office to him.

The 2009 memo came from Lin Ellinghuysen, president of the American Federation of Government Employees local at Tomah. It was addressed to another union official, Ben Balkum, and marked as being “hand-delivered” to Feingold, then a U.S. senator, as well as U.S. Rep. Ron Kind and then–Rep. Dave Obey.

“The ad claims that somehow our office knew about this. That’s not true,” Feingold said during a campaign stop in Milwaukee. “There’s no record in our office at all that we knew about it. Rep. Kind says the same thing about his office. Apparently someone was intending to give the information to our office, but there’s no record that we ever got it. So it’s not true.”

Ellinghuysen told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that she made an error in marking the memo as being hand-delivered to the Democratic lawmakers. She said she made an assumption but that the deliveries did not occur.

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