WASHINGTON – A field hearing on prescription opiate abuse at the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center is set for Monday. Leading up to the hearing some Wisconsin lawmakers have been under fire for not doing enough to stand up to the VA. Our Washington Bureau Chief Jacqueline Policastro talked to Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin about the scandal and the accusations against her office. The following excerpts are from the interview.
JACQUELINE POLICASTRO: Why didn’t you speak up right away when you received the original report about Tomah last summer?
SENATOR TAMMY BALDWIN, D-WI: I immediately wrote to the director of the Tomah VA and received a reply that basically denied the allegations. We then wrote to the VA central office in June of last year, and received a reply from the regional director, again basically dismissing the issues that were brought to our attention and thereby their attention.
JACQUELINE POLICASTRO: But why not take further action on that IG report then?
SENATOR TAMMY BALDWIN, D-WI: Unfortunately I think a mistake was made by my office and I accept responsibility by not questioning the conclusions of the Inspector General, instead relying on the conclusions that they couldn’t find any wrong doing.
JACQUELINE POLICASTRO: What about the whistleblower reports after that time period. Your office has been accused of mishandling some of those whistleblower reports. You demoted some of your own staff members because of this. Do you take personal responsibility for that?
SENATOR TAMMY BALDWIN, D-WI: I believe that a whistleblower case was mishandled and we are redoubling our efforts now moving forward. In January I called for the VA inspection that’s going on right now into over prescription of Opiods, and retaliatory conduct at the facility.
JACQUELINE POLICASTRO: Do the deaths at the Tomah VA medical facility weigh on you? The timing of one U.S. Marine who died from mixed drug toxicity came pretty close to when you received the original IG report. Do you ever worry if we had taken this more seriously, maybe we could have saved some more lives?
SENATOR TAMMY BALDWIN, D-WI: Extremely disturbing news, including the deaths of two veterans, one was being treated at Tomah, and the other who had been. These are deeply disturbing and our efforts to get to the root of problems at Tomah are ongoing and very deliberate.