Members of Congress will conduct a joint oversight hearing in Tomah on March 30 to examine extremely high opiate prescription rates at the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center, as well as patient deaths and an alleged culture of fear among hospital employees.
The hearing will be held jointly by the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. It follows news reports that the hospital’s opiate prescriptions increased more than fivefold from 2004 to 2012 despite a decline in the number of veterans seeking care at the hospital. The hospital’s prescribing practices were so pronounced, according to some news reports, that local veterans began calling the hospital “Candy Land.”
At least one veteran died of a drug overdose in the hospital’s psychiatric ward.
House members and senators plan to hear from families of veterans treated at the medical center and others with insight into the operation of the hospital to gain a better understanding of what happened.
Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said, “Unfortunately, the situation at the Tomah VAMC is a familiar one for VA involving skyrocketing opiate prescription rates, patient deaths, a secret inspector general report, executive bonuses and allegations of retaliatory behavior. While I’m glad Sec. McDonald is taking the initiative to investigate the serious issues in Tomah, it’s important for us to hold this hearing to hear directly from veterans and families, determine the steps VA has taken to address the facility’s problems since 2014 and identify who at VA – if anyone – will be held accountable.”
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, said, “Congress needs a clear understanding of what happened in Tomah and why it happened. We have asked many questions of the VA, and we expect them to be answered. But we also need to hear from the Wisconsinites who were affected directly. The goal of this hearing and of the work our committee has begun is to ensure that no other families suffer tragedies like the deaths of Jason Simcakoski and Thomas Baer.”
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, said, “This joint oversight hearing will be an opportunity for me and my Congressional colleagues to work together in a bipartisan manner to address the problems at the Tomah VA and to hold the VA accountable. It’s also an opportunity to put solutions in place to prevent these problems and tragedies from ever happening again and to ensure the VA delivers the timely and highest-quality care our Wisconsin veterans have earned.”