Honl: No Response from Kind

On Capitol City Sunday yesterday morning, Tomah VA whistleblower Ryan Honl told host Greg Neumann, “I had never heard from Congressman Kind’s office, and I had contacted him and I didn’t hear anything.”

Honl said he was working closely with Sen. Johnson’s office and his staff.

But he added that all the legislators involved dropped the ball. About Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s handling of the complaints, Honl said, “Absolutely, her office dropped the ball, but I don’t want to pile on her exclusively.”

“If you don’t have members of Congress who take serious allegations seriously, then they have a responsibility as well,” he added.

I’ve said before that we need to ask questions of Ron Kind and Jennifer Shilling in addition to Tammy Baldwin, on whom most of the attention has been focused so far. In particular, Kind’s office admits it received anonymous complaints about rampant opiate prescription at the Tomah VA Medical Center as far back as 2011. The OIG’s report was completed sometime last spring. But instead of aggressive action, Kind stood by while a deadly situation brewed in Tomah, blaming his not pursuing the facts of these cases on inaction by the VA and its inspector general.

Kind’s 2014 opponent, himself a veteran, also lambasted Kind for his inaction in a column that’s getting ink throughout the district.

Honl served as a secretary in the mental health service area of the Tomah VA. “From the very beginning the atmosphere of the place was simply difficult to deal with,” he said. Dr. David Houlihan, the Tomah VA chief of staff, was implacable and didn’t take complaints well, he was told.

In his time working at the Tomah VA, Honl sent four complaints up the ladder, including minor things like being told to record an employee as present who was in fact absent and recording doctors’ continuing education courses as having been taken when they hadn’t. Honl said he wasn’t comfortable with what this low level fraud could mean for how higher level fraud would be regarded by his co-workers.

The rampant prescription of opiates was the fourth complaint Honl filed after hearing from many other doctors and staff that “it was clear there was some kind of opiate problem” and that someone should investigate. He didn’t file the complaint anonymously because those complaints went directly to the facility director, which is like putting the fox in charge of the hen house, Honl said.

The retaliation against Honl began within hours, with emails from co-workers copying the chain of command alleging mistakes he’d made; Honl was moved around the facility, including being told not to move around the building without asking and not being given a key to a new office he’d been moved into.

Honl exited employment at the Tomah VAMC on his own accord.

About the writer: Chris Rochester has worked in communications and finance for a state Senate and congressional campaign, consulted on numerous Assembly and local races, and has held leadership roles in his local Republican Party. He's communications director for the MacIver Institute. Commentary here is strictly his own.