VA removes Tomah chief of staff as investigation launched
Mounting pressure from Wisconsin's congressional delegation leads the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to launch an investigation regarding reports of overmedication and retaliatory management practices at the VA Medical Center in Tomah.
Both Congressman Ron Kind and Senator Tammy Baldwin said they were briefed Thursday morning by VA Secretary Robert McDonald on the investigation. Kind's office said in a statement that Secretary McDonald told them the investigation would be handled by the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) and the Office of Accountability Review. The initial update should happen in four to six weeks.
As the investigation gets underway, according to Rep. Kind's office, the VA has temporarily reassigned chief of staff Dr. David Houlihan and barred him from dispensing prescriptions. A statement from Sen. Baldwin's office said that Dr. Houlihan was also barred from seeing patients.
A story by The Center for Investigative Reporting says the number of opiates prescribed at the Tomah VA had more than quintupled between 2004 and 2012, even as the number of veterans seeking treatment there has declined. Health care professionals have complained about the practices there for several years.
Kind had previously referred a complaint sent to his office in 2011 to the VA inspector general, which conducted an investigation that was not shared with House or Senate committees. Sen. Baldwin also raised questions last year on activities at the Tomah VA based on a constituent concern.
Congressman Ron Kind, whose district includes Tomah, planned to meet with officials at the medical center Thursday afternoon. He's scheduled a news conference for Friday morning to discuss what happened during his meeting with the VA.
“The allegations being made are extremely serious, and this investigation is a good next step toward correcting the problem and making sure it doesn't happen again because every veteran deserves the best care possible,” said Rep. Kind in the statement.
In her statement, Sen. Baldwin said, "These are important initial steps and I will closely monitor the investigation's progress and work to ensure that its scope and resulting remedial actions will achieve and maintain the goal of providing the timely, highest-quality care that our Wisconsin veterans have earned.”
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