TOMAH – Concerned Veterans for America has written an open letter to Senator Tammy Baldwin imploring her to disavow a shameless ad being circulated by the group VoteVets.
The grassroots organization is also releasing a new video that calls the VoteVets piece “outrageous” for questioning the stories of Mark and Jean, who shared their experience with the Tomah VA in a pair of television ads run by CVA. Mark is a veteran who witnessed abuses there both as a patient and as a staff nurse
Both Mark and Jean want answers from Senator Baldwin, who had an inspector general report detailing the dramatic over-prescription of opioids at the Tomah VA hospital, and repeated contact with a whistleblower, but took no action for months. Senator Baldwin herself admitted that she and her office made mistakes in their handling of the issue.
The letter from Concerned Veterans for America Wisconsin Coalition Director, Luis Cardona, reads in part:
“On behalf of Mark – a veteran who publicly spoke out about his experience at the Tomah VA Medical Center – and his wife Jean, Concerned Veterans for America requests that you repudiate the television advertisement running on your behalf from VoteVets Action Fund, which deceptively makes misstatements of fact in order to question the truthfulness of Mark and Jean’s stories. Mark and Jean courageously spoke up to encourage the public to contact you to support the Veterans Community Care and Access Act of 2017 – and for that brave action, they were falsely called liars.
“Mark was a staff nurse as well as a veteran receiving care at the Tomah VAMC, and at one point was placed on seven different medications. Jean worked hard to hold their family together. Having experienced the troubling conditions at Tomah firsthand, they are asking you for answers on why you remained silent for months after receiving an Inspector General report detailing the high amount of opiates being prescribed there.”
The ad from VoteVets suggests that Mark and Jean’s claims are inaccurate, but they cite two articles for substantiation that were written nearly a year ago regarding an ad from an unrelated PAC with separate claims.
The focus of the Concerned Veterans for America ads are Senator Baldwin’s lack of action between August 2014 when she received an inspector general’s report about problems at the facility and January 2015 when the story became public through the Center for Investigative Reporting. Over this period of time, Baldwin received multiple communications from whistleblower Ryan Honl. Baldwin was briefed on the inspector general’s investigation in July 2014.
In the ad, CVA asks Baldwin to support the Veterans Community Care and Access Act of 2017 (S. 2184), one of the key policy priorities the group will focus its efforts on this year.
For further information or to request an interview, reach Chris Neefus at CNeefus@cv4a.org or (703) 517-4504.
Baldwin Was Aware Of Problems At The Tomah VA No Later than April 2014
*Between April and June of 2014, Baldwin Wrote Letters To The Director Of The Tomah Center And The VA Inspector In Response To A Constituent Complaint About Veterans Being Prescribed Opiates. “Baldwin aides forwarded letters she wrote in April and June in response to a constituent complaint about veterans being prescribed opiates at the VA center. She asked the director of the Tomah center and the VA inspector general to investigate.” (Donovan Slack, “Sen. Baldwin Had Tomah VA Report For Months,” Gannett, 1/19/15)
Baldwin Was Briefed On The IG Investigation in July 2014
*In July 2014, Baldwin’s Office Was Briefed On The Earlier IG Investigation. “Baldwin’s office was briefed on the earlier IG investigation in July and got a copy Aug. 29, and provided a copy to the constituent, according to correspondence forwarded by her office.” (Donovan Slack, “Sen. Baldwin Had Tomah VA Report For Months,” Gannett, 1/19/15)
Baldwin Received A Copy Of The IG Report in August 2014
*Senator Tammy Baldwin’s Office Received An Inspector General Report Detailing The Over-Prescription Of Opiates At The Tomah VA Medical Center In August 2014. “Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s office received an inspection report last summer detailing high amounts of opiates prescribed at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Tomah, but there is no indication her office took action on the findings until last week, when she called for an investigation after a news report revealed a veteran died from an overdose at the facility. The report by the VA inspector general, a copy of which was obtained by USA TODAY, noted that two practitioners at the center were among the highest prescribers of opiates in a multistate region — at ‘considerable variance’ compared with most opioid prescribers. That, the report said, raised ‘potentially serious concerns.’ … The report had not been made public, but Baldwin’s office received a copy in August.” (Donovan Slack, “Sen. Baldwin Had Tomah VA Report For Months,” Gannett, 1/19/15)
Tomah VA Whistleblower Ryan Honl Repeatedly Contacted Baldwin’s Office Beginning In November 2014 Asking For Her Help On Tomah
*In September 2014, Tomah VA Employee And Veteran Ryan Honl Blew The Whistle On The Rampant Abuses Taking Place At The Tomah VA. “But Ryan Honl did speak at-length to 27 News Friday morning about his experiences that led him to filing a complaint with the VA’s inspector general (IG). Honl filed that complaint last September, a full five months after the IG had already finished a report documenting problems with the over-prescription of opiates at the clinic. But the IG kept that report secret. That’s why Honl doesn’t trust VA administrators to handle the problem now.” (Greg Neumann, “Tomah VA Whistleblower Says He Wants Independent Investigation Of Clinic,” WKOW 27, 1/31/15)
*After Learning That Baldwin Had Had A Copy Of The Report For Months And Hadn’t Acted, Honl Repeatedly Contacted Her Office Asking Her To Help Veterans At The Center. “A whistleblower who learned in November that Baldwin had had a copy for months and hadn’t acted, repeatedly emailed her office asking that she do something to help the veterans at the center, according to copies of the emails obtained by USA TODAY. In them the whistleblower — former Tomah VA employee Ryan Honl — asked that Baldwin call for an investigation, that she push colleagues on the Veterans Affairs committee to take action, and that she help bring the issues in the report to public attention. … When she still had not taken public action in December, Honl sent a message to her staffer with the subject line: ‘Final plea for Help from Senator Baldwin.’” (Donovan Slack, “Sen. Baldwin Had Tomah VA Report For Months,” Gannett, 1/19/15)
The Center For Investigative Reporting Broke The Story On Tomah in January 8, 2015
*On January 8, 2015, The Center For Investigative Reporting Published An Article Detailing The Overprescription Of Opioids At Tomah. “Doctors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs medical center in Tomah, Wisconsin, hand out so many narcotic painkillers that some veterans have taken to calling the place ‘Candy Land.’ They call the hospital’s chief of staff, psychiatrist Dr. David Houlihan, the ‘Candy Man.’ Current and former hospital staff members describe patients who show up to appointments stoned on painkillers and muscle relaxants, doze off and drool during therapy sessions, and burn themselves with cigarettes. They told The Center for Investigative Reporting that Houlihan himself ‘doped up’ or ‘zombified’ their patients and that workers who raised questions have been punished.” (Aaron Glantz, “Opiates Handed Out Like Candy To ‘Doped-Up’ Veterans At Wisconsin VA,” The Center For Investigative Reporting, 1/8/15)