A VA medical facility in Wisconsin — known by veterans as “Candy Land” — is handing out record numbers of opiates, and punishing staff who disagree. Veterans are reportedly so high during therapy that they drool and burn themselves on cigarettes.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Rep. Ron Kind are demanding that Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald further investigate a report on the facility. The Center for Investigative Reporting originally broke the story on Friday, revealing that from 2004 onward, the number of prescriptions handed out has quintupled under the direction of chief of staff Dr. David Houlihan.
Staff members stated that Houlihan punished anyone who raised questions about lax prescription policies.
In one case, a 35 year old died after overdosing in a psychiatric ward. After only two months serving in the mental health clinic, Gulf War veteran Ryan Honl couldn’t take it anymore. Honl resigned and filed a whistleblower complaint, stating that the number of prescription painkillers being handed to veterans is absolutely out of control.
“Houlihan is a symptom of failed leadership from Washington on down,” Honl told the Center for Investigative Reporting. “They turn the other way while veterans, who expect to be taken care of after the politicians send them to war, suffer.”
Another psychologist, Jennifer Brooks, who was demoted in 2011 after disagreeing with Houlihan, described the work environment as one of “fear and hopelessness.”
In 2004, veterans received 50,000 oxycodone pills. As of 2012, the number shot up to 712,000. An inspector general report in 2012 alluded to a high prescription rate raising serious concerns about Houlihan’s prescription practices.
Hailing from Wisconsin, Kind has called in the past for President Obama to establish a Blue Ribbon Commission, that is, an independent, bipartisan commission staffed with military leaders to get to the bottom of manipulated appointment times, secret waiting lists and deaths resulting from inexcusably poor care.
“The VA was right to launch an audit of its own services, but much more needs to be done,” Kind stated in May of 2014.
“Although I remain convinced that our Wisconsin facilities provide quality care for our veterans,” Kind wrote about the Tomah VA Medical Center in his letter. “These reports about inappropriate prescription levels are alarming and we must address these issues head-on.”
A spokesman for Baldwin reiterated that McDonald must fulfill his obligations of reforming the VA and should focus on reining in the problems at the Tomah facility.
“It is our expectation that at the very least, the suggestions and recommendations put forward by the Office of Inspector General report will be put into place and it is now the job of Secretary McDonald to see to it that these recommendations are implemented,” the spokesman stated, according to the La Crosse Tribune.
“We are taking these allegations very seriously,” Tomah VA Director Mario DeSanctis said in response to the findings from the Center for Investigative Reporting. “We will investigate each accusation to the fullest extent to swiftly take appropriate action and share these findings with the public. The number one mission of the Tomah VA Medical Center is providing veterans with quality care that they have earned through their service.”
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