A Congressional field hearing to look into whistle-blower reports about prescription drug abuse at the Veterans Affairs medical center in Tomah, Wisconsin is set for March 30th. The hearing comes after a report, first hidden by the VA Inspector General, which shows a culture of fear among employees at the center and a high rate of prescriptions written for high dose opiates such as oxycodone and morphine. There are also deaths under investigation at the medical center.
The facts are very concerning. According to a clinical review, Tomah patients were 2.5 times more likely to be prescribed high dose opioid medications than the national VA average. Additional information shows that Tomah patients were prescribed benzodiazepines along with opioids, a practice known to cause serious life-threatening complications, nearly twice as much as other VA medical centers.
When you have higher doses and you don’t have certain procedures and policies in place when prescribing opiates, you can have disastrous results which is very concerning. Especially when the community knows what is going on. When they call Tomah candy land and this one doctor the candy man it is well known that he is a prescriber of opiate drugs,“ said Republicam Wisconsin Congressman Sean Duffy.
There is an uproar as to who is to blame for this problem. The VA Office of Inspector General is accused of keeping the report on Tomah a secret from the public, even hidden from the congressional committees responsible for overseeing the VA. Several high-profile lawmakers like Senator Ron Johnson and Senator Tammy Baldwin are accused of tampering with whistleblower reports about the problem in Tomah.
“Some of the Wisconsin representatives knew what was going on and didn’t do a lot to protect our veterans. I think when you have whistleblowers come forward and say we have problems in our VA system you need to come forward and make sure those veterans are protected. And you can’t sit back and let those stories and those reports and those whistleblowers be pushed to the sidelines,” Congressman Duffy told Washington Bureau Chief Jacqueline Policastro.
“We are going to be able to hear from people on the ground with firsthand knowledge. Some of the whistleblowers are in that area who have been asked to testify and this is important because Congress has a responsibility to make sure that we get the policy right to make sure the proper protocols of care are followed,” said Democratic Wisconsin Congressman Ron Kind.
The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs tells us they hold less than 10 field hearings each year. This year Tomah is one of them and what happens at the hearing will help guide future legislative oversight efforts at VA hospitals around the country.