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Tomah VA Nurse Writes Opinion Piece Attacking Noted Whistleblower

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Jonah Bennett Contributor

A Department of Veterans Affairs nurse at Tomah recently wrote an opinion piece savaging whistleblower Ryan Honl and saying that he’s no hero at all.

Kevin Schaller, who is listed on the VA website as a nurse practitioner at Tomah in Wisconsin, stated Tuesday in the La Crosse Tribune that, “Honl no longer works for the Tomah VA, nor does he speak for veterans or VA employees. Any of the ‘grassroots’ actions his recent letter implies will only create more disruptions to the provision of care for our veterans. I do not know Honl, but he is no hero and his actions have done more harm than good to the Tomah VA.”

Schaller makes a six-figure salary at the department.

Honl, a West Point graduate, resigned from his position in October 2014 after two months working at the VA. He was disgusted with abysmal opioid prescription practices and filed a whistleblower claim as he left, raising serious questions about why veterans were receiving an unbelievable amount of opioids. The facility prescribed so many narcotics to veterans that it became known as “Candy Land” as a result of then-Chief of Staff Dr. David Houlihan’s lax prescription policies. Any staff members who questioned Houlihan were immediately punished.

One data point shows just how much the narcotic distribution rate jumped over a few years’ time. In 2004, the facility handed out 50,000 pills of oxycodone. By 2012, that number had increased astronomically to 712,000.

Marine Corps veteran Jason Simcakoski’s death on August 30, 2014, was the most public exemplification of Houlihan’s policies gone off the rails. An inspector general report found that his death was due to “mixed drug toxicity.” Doctors had prescribed him more than 12 different medications and neither informed him nor his family of the potential side effects.

Due to Honl’s tireless efforts reporting waste, fraud and abuse, Tomah facility director Mario DeSanctis was fired from his position.

Houlihan was also fired in November 2015.

The La Crosse Tribune allowed Honl a response piece, which he used to point out, “The Department of Veterans Affairs continues to use intimidation tactics through its employees to scare whistleblowers into remaining silent, even to the point of intimidation of former employees such as myself run out of the VA for simply reporting fraud, waste and abuse, including substantiated wrongdoing in the death of a Marine at the hands of Tomah VA clinicians.”

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