Report: ‘Opiates handed out like candy at Tomah VA’

Center for Investigative Reporting says veterans call hospital's chief of staff 'Candy Man'

Opiate prescriptions at the Tomah VA have skyrocketed causing Washington officials to investigate.

A story published Thursday, January 8 by “The Center for Investigative Reporting” shows the number of opiate prescriptions at the Tomah V.A. more than quintupled from 2004 to 2012, even as the number of veterans seeking care at the hospital declined.

During that same time period, the investigation found the number of oxycodone pills also skyrocketed.

The hospital’s chief of staff, psychiatrist David Houlihan, became chief in 2005.

According to the Center for Investigative Reporting, Houlihan is known by some veterans as the ‘Candy Man.’

The investigative agency reports Houlihan says there is nothing unusual about his prescription practices.

The Tomah VA released a statement to News 8 that says:

“We are taking these allegations very seriously.  We will investigate each accusation to the fullest extent to swiftly take appropriate action and share these findings with the public. The number one mission of the Tomah VA Medical Center is providing Veterans with quality care that they have earned through their service.”

In Washington, the VA’s director of media relations told the C.I.R.  they are looking into the situation in Tomah.

Congressman Ron Kind released the following statement to News 8 in response to the report:

“I am looking into the allegations made in this report, and am in contact with officials at the Tomah VA. My priority continues to be ensuring that every veteran gets the best care possible.”

State Representative Nancy Vandermeer (R-Tomah) released the following statement Monday:

“I was shocked and saddened to learn of the recent allegations of prescription drug abuse at the Tomah VA Medical Center. This is a troubling issue that demands a thorough review. As a valuable resource to our community’s veterans, the VA Medical Center must maintain a high-quality level of care. It’s the least we can do for our servicemen and women. I am committed to making sure that our veterans are treated with the utmost respect and support they need, and will work alongside the Tomah VA to assure that these alarming concerns are addressed.”

Click here to read the full story from the Center for Investigative Reporting.

Senator Ron Johnson released the following statement on Wednesday, January 14:

“Reports questioning the prescribing practices at the VA Medical Center in Tomah are cause for alarm. As chairman of the Senate committee overseeing the way government agencies operate, I am requesting the Inspector General’s office get to the bottom of this matter. Our veterans, the finest among us, have earned our gratitude. The treatment they get should be the best care a grateful nation can provide.”

If any veteran or family member is having problems and would like to speak in confidence with Sen. Johnson’s office, contact whistleblower@ronjohnson.senate.gov.

Congressman Sean Duffy also released the following statement on Wednesday:

“These are not just politicians calling for this investigation, these are constituents; mothers and fathers who lost their children due to the failings of the very people charged with their children’s care. 

“These stories must end, procedures at the VA must change and those responsible must be held accountable. This IG investigation is one step of many that Sen. Johnson and I are prepared to take to get the answers these families deserve.”

Several members of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation are pressuring the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to once again look into reports of overmedication and retaliatory management practices at the VA Medical Center in Tomah.

Congressman Ron Kind visited the Tomah VA on Thursday. He will talk with the media on Friday and “will provide updates and discuss what steps need to be taken to determine the extent of the problem, resolve it immediately, and make sure that all veterans are getting the treatment they need.”

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