The Department of Veterans Affairs will launch two new investigations into allegations made against the Tomah VA that claim the number of opiates it prescribed more than quintupled over the past decade.
Representative Ron Kind sent a letter on Monday to the Department of Veterans Affairs requesting the investigation be launched.
Kind also spoke with VA Secretary Robert McDonald about the investigation.
"The VA agreed to move forward with a parallel investigation with the Tomah VA," Kind said. "First, one that looks at opiate prescription use, level of dosage and pain management practice, he said. "The other part of the investigation will look an alleged culture of intimidation or coercion that may exist at the VA."
Kind said he has a few ideas to better serve veterans within the VA system and keep prescription drug abuse to a minimum.
"I'm interested in seeing if we can think about more protocols of care, standards of care, and quality measurements that would be implemented across the system," he said. "One idea I've talked to the VA secretary about is pain management teams at every VA center. It would be more of a collaborative, integrated approach so it doesn't come down to the decision of one treating doctor. I think it should be more of a peer review process."
Kind also said after talking to other physicians, the problem isn't limited to the VA system.
"They say they see problems with care of veterans in private practice when it comes to appropriate level of dosage," he said. "So when they get the VA center sometimes that level of dosage is so high, they try to bring them back down and they start getting patient complaints."
He admits there was a breakdown in communication between his office and the Tomah VA last summer, when the results of the investigation first came to light.
"I complained that last year when I was down there in light of Phoenix when director DeSanctis wasn't as forthcoming about what he was dealing with," he said. "I was disappointed with that line of communication. I think when we show up at their doorstep they need to be as candid as possible with the issues they're dealing with."
When asked why the issue is just now being looked into, nearly six months after the Office of Inspector General report was issued, Kind said the OIG is partly to blame.
"The OIG did what they were supposed to do by conducting a comprehensive, two year investigation," he said. "But they dropped the ball, and they admitted that to me when I got together with them this week, by not notifying our offices when they had concluded their report."
Kind said the OIG finalized its report in March, but didn't contact the Tomah VA to discuss its findings until June.
"They said the reason for that was because of everything that was going on at the Phoenix VA and they needed all hands on deck to deal with it," Kind said.
The Veterans Health Administration set a time frame of four to six weeks for an initial update on the pending investigations. Additionally, the VA announced the Tomah chief of staff, Dr. David Houlihan, has been temporarily reassigned and barred from dispensing prescriptions until the results of the investigations are released.