Report: Ron’s hearing on Tomah VA finds ‘systemic’ failures

Ron’s hearing in Tomah, Wisconsin revealed “systemic failures” at the local VA facility.  Ron said he would be the “watchdog of the watchdog” as his committee released a 350-page report focused on getting to the bottom of the VA’s problems.

From the Associated Press:

TOMAH, Wis. (AP) — A U.S. Senate committee probe of a painkiller-abuse scandal at a VA facility in western Wisconsin that veterans referred to as “Candy Land” because of the free flow of prescription drugs has turned up “systemic failures” in an inspector general’s review of the facility.

The report released Tuesday on the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center by the Republican majority of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee found the VA inspector general’s office discounted evidence and testimony, needlessly narrowed its inquiry and has no standard for measuring wrongdoing.

The office’s failure to publish results of an investigation into the Tomah facility, which found that two providers there had been prescribing alarming levels of narcotics, “compromised veteran care,” the Senate report found.

Releasing the inspector general’s report would have forced VA officials to publicly address the problem and ensure there was follow-up, the Senate report said. Instead, the inspector general’s office briefed local VA officials and closed the case.

The Senate report’s findings show the inspector general’s office needs to “clean house,” said Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, chairman of the committee. Johnson was presiding over a field hearing in Tomah on Tuesday.

Sloan Gibson, deputy secretary of the VA, and Michael Missal, who took over as inspector general for the VA last month, were both slated to testify at the hearing.

Inspectors for the VA in 2014 found that doctors were over-prescribing opioid painkillers, leading to the “Candy Land” nickname. The deaths of three people who were cared for at Tomah remain under investigation. The Senate report also says a culture of fear and whistleblower retaliation continues at the facility.

Several Tomah VA officials – including former director Mario Desanctis and former chief of staff David Houlihan – have since been fired. Houlihan was nicknamed “candy man” by some patients who said he over-prescribed narcotics.

Release of the 350-page report comes as Johnson is in the midst of a tough re-election battle against Democrat Russ Feingold. Tomah has already been an issue in the race, with attack ads from both sides blaming Johnson and Feingold, who was in the Senate until 2010, for not doing enough to prevent abuses at the facility.

Johnson, speaking to reporters before the hearing, denied that he was politicizing issues at the VA. The committee spent 16 months investigating and Johnson vowed to be the “watchdog of the watchdog.”