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Hearings on Veteran care held in Tomah

On Monday, lawmakers got an earful in Tomah as family, Veterans and Whistle Blowers railed against VA Medical Center and it how it prescribed pain medication.The Monday session came after last week's hearings on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C.

The probe began several months ago after the families spoke out about the death of three Veterans in particular, including one from Milwaukee.

The lawmakers heard how pharmacists who first called prescribing practices into question were intimidated and in some cases even threatened.

\"The results were to the detriment of Veterans and in some cases the deaths of Veterans,\" testified former employee and patient Ryan Honl. \"The system was slow to respond but quick to silence those who raised concerns.\"

Among the allegations of mistreatment, Veteran with mental illness being treated with pain medication.

Marvin Simcakoski's son, Jason died last summer under the care of Tomah VA.

\"August 30th, 2014 was the hardest and most painful day of my life, there isn't a day that goes by when I don't relive that morning,\" said Simcakoski. 

Several whistle blowers also testified during the hearing, many accused a culture of cronyism and retaliation at the hospital. 

\"I was asked to do something illegal, I refused, I blew the whistle, and was fired for standing up and doing what was safe and right for the veterans,\" said Dr. Noel Johnson, a former pharmacist at Tomah VA. 

Many lawmakers say the practice is appalling.

\"Unless you're dealing with pain, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of medical support for using painkillers,\" concluded Republican Senator Ron Johnson. 

Federal investigators said a hotline will remain open and that the information on those calls will be made public.


Both Wisconsin Senators have been criticized for not taking action soon enough when concerns were first raised.

Sadie Weiner, National Press Secretary of  the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee  issued a statement several weeks ago that said in part:

\"Sen. Ron Johnson suggested in a recent radio interview that his office might have responded faster to complaints about problems at a Veteran's Affairs center in Wisconsin, but his staff was busy during the lame duck session 'doing job interviews and stuff.' Johnson made the comments in a radio interview on the Jerry Bader Show.\"

In February, Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin said she was conducting her own internal investigation to determine who in her office knew what and when.

\"I put out a statement accepting responsibility for not acting swiftly enough on a whistle blower case. Right now our focus is on the investigation in Tomah. I am in a very detailed and comprehensive fashion seeking to understand everything that happened in my office.\"

She promised she would have a lot more to say once that examination of her staff's conduct was complete.  

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