Two investigations into Tomah VA allegations

Carolyn Clancy, the interim undersecretary of health with the Veterans Affairs Department met with staff members at the Tomah VA Friday.

The VA is under investigation for overprescribing opiates, and allegations of intimidation and bullying.

During her visit Clancy held a town hall meeting with staff, telling them what is taking place and asking for any feedback or concerns staff may have.

There are two investigations taking place. Clancy says investigators will be talking to patients, staff and whistleblowers so the Tomah VA can get back to providing for veterans.

Clancy said the fact that veterans have referred to the Tomah VA as “Candyland” is troubling.

“The connotation there is disrespectful,” she said.

Clancy said a clinical team has been in Tomah all week and is focused on reports of overprescribing opiates.

“Senior clinicians from outside this region, outside this network, looking specifically at the clinical practices. They’re interviewing a lot of people, looking at charts and so forth,” she said.

Clancy said this specific investigation does have some challenges.

“What makes this whole set of issues challenging is that a lot of it is judgment on the part of the clinician. It’s judgment based on the unique circumstances of an individual patient, and obviously many of the men and women returning, particularly from recent conflicts, are dealing with a variety of a serious issues associated with chronic pain,” Clancy said.

The other investigation will focus on allegations of a hostile work environment created by Dr. David Houlihan, the VA’s former chief of staff.

“Starting next week, there’s a group called the Office of Accountability and Review. This is a group created last summer,” Clancy said. “They investigate allegations against senior executives in the system about retaliation, intimidation and so forth, because Secretary McDonald and I have made it very clear that that kind of behavior is completely unacceptable,” Clancy said.

Clancy said the plan is to be as transparent as possible throughout both investigations.

There is no timeline for the investigations.

Whistleblower, Ryan Honl, who raised some of the allegations was escorted out of the press conference Friday by police minutes before it began. Clancy said she was hoping to speak with him, but she says Honl declined. News 8 spoke with Honl Saturday about the incident and he says he asked to speak with her at the union office, but she never arrived.