Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin Slashes Pay, Fires Staff Over Deadly VA Screw-Ups

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Jonah Bennett Contributor
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Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin says her office blew it: Staff repeatedly ignored allegations of over-prescription policies at the VA Medical Center in Tomah, and since then, Baldwin has promised to clean up her act by disciplining her staff.

The report she commissioned to investigate her own office found that all levels of her staff made major mistakes, from senior management to constituent services, AP reports. In constituent services, employees did not pass on important concerns to senior staff. Ryan Honl, former secretary of the mental health clinic at Tomah, resigned after just two months, filing a federal whistleblower complaint when he exited. He repeatedly tried to get Baldwin’s office to take action on an inspector general report to no avail. The office sat on the report for four long months.

Marquette Baylor, deputy state director of constituent services, was highlighted by the report as bearing the brunt of the blame. Baldwin fired Baylor in January.

“Mistakes were made, and I’m taking the action that I need to assure the people of Wisconsin that we are not going to make these mistakes again, and I’ll renew my reputation for excellent casework,” Balwin told USA TODAY.

On Friday, Baldwin stated that her chief of staff will receive a $14,000 dollar pay cut. Her state director will be moved to the position of outreach boss. Another staffer was moved off veterans’ issues.

The Tomah affair exploded at the beginning of January, when The Center for Investigative Reporting broke a story showing that opiate prescriptions have quintupled since 2004. Veterans testified that the policies on opioid prescription, put into place by Dr. David Houlihan, resulted in patients being so doped up that they’d burn themselves with cigarettes, drool, doze off at random times, and otherwise function like zombies. The hospital gained a new, unofficial name to mark its reputation: Candy Land.

Finally, the deadly overdose of a 35-year-old Marine Corps veteran in August 2014 started directing attention to the facility in Wisconsin. A recently released preliminary report from the Veterans Health Administration confirmed some of the worst details: Out of just 18 patients examined, six had experienced harm from overuse of drugs. Despite the evident harm, all of their prescriptions remained the same. And although nine of the 18 patients showed aberrant behavior, their prescriptions also went unchanged. (RELATED: Review Finds Harmful Prescription Drug Policies At Tomah VA)

“I accept responsibility,” Baldwin said, according to the Journal Sentinel. “My name is on the door.”

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