Tomah VA Whistleblower Has Questions for Ron Kind

The following report by M.D. Kittle of deserves to be re-printed in full.

Click here for the original article.

A whistleblower who helped shine light on abuses at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Tomah has some pointed questions for U.S. Representative Ron Kind.

Ryan Honl, a former employee at the scandal-plagued hospital and clinics, on Wednesday hand-delivered a letter to a Kind aide holding a listening session in Tomah.

Honl wants to know what the La Crosse Democrat or his staff said to Jason Simcakoski during a phone call to Kind’s D.C. office in November 2013, about nine months before the Marine veteran died of a “toxic cocktail” of painkillers and other drugs at the medical center.

In May, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs released a stinging report titled, “The Systematic Failures and Preventable Tragedies at the Tomah VA Medical Center.” The report described a “culture of fear” at the government-run hospital known as “Candyland” because of reported staff practices of overprescribing opioids. Dr. David Houlihan, the former head of the medical center who was commonly referred to as the “Candy Man” by patients and whistleblowers, was fired in November 2015. Last month a state agency stripped him of his medical license in Wisconsin.

Source notes from a 359-page Senate committee report show a 7-minute, 39-second call from Simcakoski’s phone to Kind’s office on Nov. 8, 2013.

At a May 31 hearing on the committee’s findings, Kind refused to answer Wisconsin Watchdog’s questions about the call.

“Contact my office,” Kind curtly said.

“But congressman, you are right here,” a Wisconsin Watchdog reporter responded.

Kind hastily left the conference room of the Cranberry Country Lodge in Tomah following the committee hearing.

A day later, the congressman told another news organization that his office would “conduct a thorough review” of its files.

“I can’t imagine that if someone, anyone called my office, gave their name and asked for help, then a case file would have been started immediately,” Kind told the La Crosse Tribune.

He released a follow-up statement asserting that his office doesn’t have a record of Simcakoski’s call. The congressman’s statement said the office has “strict protocol to handle every call in an appropriate way” and that its process “ensures that when constituents provide their name and contact information, and have concerns, those concerns are addressed.”

“If Jason had called our office to ask for help, we would have immediately opened a casework file and asked him to sign a Privacy Release Form in order to work on his case, as we have with almost 2,000 veterans’ cases since 2011,” the statement said. “If he had provided information, we would have flagged it and sent to the authorities, like we did when we sent the VA Inspector General an anonymous letter we received in 2011. Lastly, if he in any way sounded distressed we would have asked for his contact information and taken immediate action to reach out to the proper authorities.”

Photo by Wisconsin Watchdog

But the call records in the report’s source notes clearly indicate Simcakoski called Kind’s office and the call lasted 7 minutes, 39 seconds. Just as the records show the veteran, on the same morning, called the VA police in Tomah, and made an 8-minute call to the FBI field office in La Crosse. The FBI has declined to comment.

“Jason himself, according to the family and the congressional report, was basically a whistleblower,” Honl said in an interview Wednesday with Wisconsin Watchdog on the Vicki McKenna Show.  “He was calling the FBI, he was calling the VA police, he was calling lots of other places to try to get some attention to the drug diversion at the facility. And in the mix of that was an 8-minute call to Ron Kind’s Washington D.C. office.”

Kind’s office did forward an anonymous complaint about the hospital to the VA Inspector General in 2011, but the congressman did not follow up.

Kind and former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Middleton, have been accused of not acting on allegations of misconduct. An official for the union that represents many of the employees at Tomah originally said she had sent “hand-delivered” memos to Kind and Feingold in 2009, but later walked back those statements.

Kind and Feingold said their offices had no record of the memo.

The memo battle became a heated campaign issue last year in a Senate election campaign that saw U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, who chairs the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee, beat Feingold.

Honl said his personal campaign to call out Kind was rekindled recently after reading that the 10-term congressman hasn’t ruled out a run for governor in 2018. The whistleblower said that would be “an absolute travesty.”

“The governor is responsible for the National Guard in the state and I just can’t imagine that someone who turned the other way while veterans are being abused and died would be responsible to veterans and active duty,” Honl said.

Kind’s office did not return a request for comment Wednesday.

The original article can be found here at Wisconsin Watchdog.

BREAKING: Kind To Hold Office Hours!

The La Crosse Tribune revealed a stunning new change in Rep. Ron Kind’s strategy today after multiple stories have been surfaced about the 20-year congressman’s potential 2018 plans.

The Tribune revealed today that Kind plans to hold office hours at various locations within the district in order to connect with constituents. Reports the Tribune:

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind has announced plans to make his staff available to constituents in each of the 18 counties of Wisconsin’s Third Congressional District over the next two weeks.

No doubt, throughout the land triumphant flourishes permeated village squares and Walmart parking lots at the news that Kind’s staff plans to hold office hours on Feb. 28, March 1, March 2, March 3, March 7 – all at various locations throughout the Third congressional district.

Reports of Kind now holding office hours in his district come after questions emerged about his potential run for governor. We speculated about the possibility that he might run for governor and took a look at whether the GOP is planning to seriously target his district in 2018. Is Kind trying to build support for a run for governor, or – more likely – shore up his image as a constituent-connector?

Is holding office hours – a top-flight story in his hometown newspaper – a sign that the congressman has changed strategy in order to emit an appearance of increased constituent relations? Or perhaps it’s a complete coincidence.

The people of Kind’s district, nonetheless, are no doubt honored that their congressman has bestowed upon them an opportunity for even the briefest of hearings, even if the precious opportunity precipitated upon them from on high only upon chatter that the screws might be tightening on his comfortable position in the next election cycle.

Funny how politics works.

Is the GOP Serious About Targeting Ron Kind?

The Republican Party could be putting plans in place to give Democratic Congressman Ron Kind the sort of challenge he hasn’t faced in his 20 years in the House.

A fundraising solicitation email from Mark Morgan, executive director of the state Republican Party, pinpointed Kind’s district, the Third congressional district of Wisconsin, as being on the GOP radar. After Trump’s decisive win in rural Wisconsin, Morgan tells supporters:

“…Now we know which House seat is our best shot at a GOP pickup: Wisconsin’s Third District – one of only a handful of Democrat seats carried by Trump in the country.

Of course fundraising solicitations portraying a particular win or loss as hinging on the $20 contribution of some typist or trucker are standard business in politics, so for the state party to imply Ron Kind’s seat hangs in the balance might be tabloid trash that today passes for real reporting, but to those who have been in the game it’s not exactly a shocker.

The email does, however, cite a Journal Sentinel article probing the question of Kind’s conundrum as a flyover Democrat in a Trump congressional district. While the solicitation didn’t specify which article, it may have referred to this one where the Journal Sentinel took a look at each Wisconsin congressional district. It’s worth quoting their analysis of the Third in full:

This is one of just a dozen Democratic House seats in the country carried by Trump last fall. It had been regularly voting Democratic for president. But it saw a huge shift toward the GOP in 2016, part of the massive rural swing that delivered Wisconsin for Trump. Kind was unopposed for Congress by Wisconsin Republicans, who had no real way of knowing what a golden opportunity this blue seat would have been for them in 2016.

In a highly read analysis I posted this weekend, I threw a bit of cold water on the idea that Kind is or will ever be a golden opportunity to Wisconsin Republicans. The article notes, however, that Kind will be under pressure to oppose Trump.

Now it looks like Kind will be highly targeted by the GOP in 2018. The fact that his southwestern Wisconsin district voted for Trump may pressure Kind to look for some common ground across party lines with the president. But Trump’s edge in the district was narrow (just 4 points), and Kind will be pushed by his own party’s voters to oppose the president.

Kind’s dilemma is this: if he vociferously opposes Trump, he alienates an energetic portion of non-ideological populists among his electorate. If he demurs, he ticks off the far left that already thinks he’s squishier than a rotten banana.

If the state GOP follows through on making Kind a target, they’ll join at least one national group called the National Action Network so far that is also running ads against Kind for his support of Obamacare, but there’s no indication whether this is a token shot across the bow or the harbinger of a bigger campaign to come.

Politico also reported that Kind’s district is one of 36 on a list of target districts – districts that Trump won that are held by Democrats.

In his email, Morgan also said:

We need your help to recruit top-notch GOP challengers and give them every resource they will need to defeat DC insiders who have been in Washington too long and have lost touch with everyday Wisconsinites.

That candidate is likely Kind’s 2014 challenger Tony Kurtz. An influx of support from outside the district to match Kind’s Political Action Committee donations could level the playing field and give Kurtz a real shot.

Addendum: a curmudgeonly Facebook commenter pointed out that the opening paragraph should be regarded in error in view of Dan Kapanke’s highly competitive 2010 campaign against which Kind barely held on. We are not in error, and the curmudgeon is wrong. While the RNCC, Kapanke campaign, and other groups assembled a nearly victorious effort against Kind, key here is “nearly”; our lede refers to an unprecedented effort against Kind, one that wins, not one that comes close.

Kind for Governor? Here We Go Again.

Rep. Ron Kind – whose gubernatorial ambitions, or lack thereof, Morning Martini has tracked for years – is once again stringing along his Democratic groupies when it comes to his interest in running for governor.

The congressman from La Crosse just told WPR he hasn’t ruled out running in 2018:

“I’ve been troubled, as many people have throughout the state, in regards to the direction of where we’ve gone as a state, the unnecessary division, pitting people against each other, dividing families,” Kind said. “We deserve better leadership, but no decision’s been made on my behalf.”

Like the star quarterback telling a half dozen ladies he might take them to the prom, Kind continues to tease Wisconsin Democrats desperate for a candidate strong enough to knock off Scott Walker.

Will he run? If he does, he has a lot of factors to weigh, including the increasing distance between himself and the mainstream of his own party, competing pressure to stay in his rightward-trending district, and the possibility of a damaging primary.

If he ran for governor, Kind could face a challenge from the left, a front on which he’s vulnerable for any number of reasons. For one, he’s been on the outs with labor interests in his district for some time, particularly because of his open-armed embrace of multilateral trade deals like NAFTA and the TPP. The erosion of support by the union left was also evidenced by his Bernie Sanders-inspired primary opponent in the 2016 election. At least one union actually endorsed his opponent, Myron Buchholtz. Superdelegate Kind was also hounded by a pro-Bernie gaggle at the Democratic National Convention for being too moderate on trade issues.

Still, 2016 was a hopscotch for Kind, who eventually trounced Buchholtz and strode onto a general election in which his oddly named opponent, “scattering,” barely amounted to a blip (translation from geek humor: he ran unopposed). However, the strain between Kind and labor remains. The strain between Kind and the newly empowered and proliferating far-left, for whom Kind is far too nuanced and rational, is also growing more pronounced as Sandersism takes hold within the new Democratic Party.

Ironically, Kind has long marketed himself as a leader in the “New Democrat” caucus, a group of middle-of-the-road Congressmen who, with the upheaval that’s dragged his party to the precipice of socialism, now appears to be a relic of the days of Clinton. The New Democrats should re-brand as “The Tattered Wreckage of a Dead Dream.”

As one of few remaining rural, flyover state Democrats still in Congress, he admitted to voting against Nancy Pelosi in recent House leadership elections, telling the Wisconsin State Journal that a new minority leader would be “a breath of fresh air.” In the same article, Kind was critical of Hillary Clinton. “She didn’t set foot in Wisconsin once after the primary. I knew that was going to be a problem,” he said.

After the results of the November elections hit, Kind no doubt started seeing the ground moving beneath him as his electorate’s gradual transformation became manifest – or at least the electorate is realizing how far left the Democratic Party has drifted away from New Deal populism.

Voters are changing their voting patterns accordingly.

When Kind was first elected in 1996, President Bill Clinton was reforming welfare and trumpeting that “the era of big government is over,” an apparent last gasp of the Democratic ideals of the Kennedy era. Such notions are thoroughly in the mainstream of Republican thinking today, but it’s utterly unthinkable rhetoric from a modern Democrat – except the likes of Jim Webb, whose moderate candidacy for president went over within the post-Obama Democratic ranks like ketchup on ice cream.

How much has the electorate changed in Wisconsin’s Third? In 2012, the first presidential election after redistricting made the district even more blue by removing parts of right-leaning St. Croix and adding parts of left-leaning Portage, Barack Obama won with 54.8 percent. In 2016, the same electorate voted for Donald J. Trump by 49.3 percent; Hillary Clinton won just 44.8 percent, about the same amount as Kind’s last Republican challenger, Tony Kurtz.

Kind endorsed Hillary and pledged his superdelegate vote for her.

In addition, the two state legislative seats in which an incumbent was defeated in 2016 (both Democrats) were in Kind’s district. Rep. Chris Danou lost to Republican Treig Pronschinske 52-48 and longtime Sen. Julie Lassa lost to Patrick Testin, who hadn’t held elected office before challenging Lassa. Lassa lost by 52.4 to 47.6 percent, losing every county in her senate district save one, Portage, the most liberal.

In the era of Trump, Kind is buoyed by a sort of Bermuda Triangle of liberal enclaves – the City of La Crosse (the rest of La Crosse County went for Trump), Portage County, and the City of Eau Claire.

The tectonic plates have shifted on the Democratic side of the ballot since 1996, too. Sanders obliterated Clinton in the Third District – the Democratic Socialist won the district with an astounding 61.3 percent of the Democratic primary vote.

Kind’s district might be increasingly vulnerable, but that doesn’t mean Kind himself is, too. Though the district’s voting patterns seem to be shifting Republican, especially in the rural areas bounded by the Bermuda Triangle, Kind is hardly the poster child for the “new left” that pawns off responsibility for Hillary Clinton’s abysmal candidacy on conspiracy theories of Russian hacking, fake news, or a nexus of corruption in James Comey’s office. He’s not likely to be seen flipping over cars, smashing windows, or throwing rotten fruit at controversial alt-right agitators. Perhaps most scary to the coastal elites that run his party, Ron Kind is pro-Second Amendment. It would be fair to assume he actually owns guns – AND USES THEM TO SHOOT ANIMALS!

No, Ron Kind is rather astutely in touch with his electorate, even though he’s become quite comfortable with accepting millions of dollars from special interests via his lofty perch as ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee, a vaunted position that allows him to amass war chests of millions of dollars each election cycle, which he typically spends airing recycled TV ads depicting him throwing a football and watching the Packers. His image could be summed up in two words: Captain Wisconsin.

Captain Wisconsin is at no risk of losing in the near future; the 53-year-old has a job for life in Congress if he wants.

He also seems to be quite unambitious, at least when it comes to any aspirations for higher office. He passed up running for U.S. Senate in 2012 (presumably the Democrats preferred a cleared field while the flame thrower-wielding Republican candidates formed a circular firing squad and torched their own chances of taking the seat). He passed up a run for governor against Walker in 2014, leaving the Democrats with Mary Burke and her hairdo. He deferred to Russ Feingold for U.S. Senate in 2016, who shocked the world in his failure to take down Ron Johnson. He’s also passed up other leadership opportunities in the House.

Then, there’s the issue of the Democratic bench in Wisconsin, a topic we’ve clobbered for years on this website. It’s so thin that former state Sen. Tim Cullen, who was among those who famously took a vacation to Illinois in a failed attempt to stop Act 10, is actually considered a strong contender for 2018. Susan Happ – the failed attorney general candidate from 2014 – has been discussed. Jennifer Shilling, the Senate Minority Leader who came within 60 votes of losing her own seat in the state Senate in 2016, is still somehow being mentioned. Add to that the usual cast of yet-uncasted characters in the Mary Burke mold, people who can be mutated into featureless canvasses onto which any generic Democratic persona can be grafted, an approach that flopped like a wet waffle with Mary Burke.

Ron Kind For Governor would tickle the Democrats to no end. He is the Democratic bench in Wisconsin – and he’s perhaps the one Democrat with a very, very, very good shot at defeating Walker (that’s three verys more than anyone else). But there’s also the issue of time. Though he’s not old – at 53, he’s a puppy compared to 72-year-old Tim Cullen – the clock is nonetheless ticking. If he passes on 2018, he will be nearly 60 before his next shot at governor comes around, and that’s if Walker gets re-elected. (Kind will be 54 this year, 55 at the time of the 2018 election, and 59 at the 2022 election).

Any Democrat with the exception of Kind running against Walker would be an admission by that party that Walker is unstoppable – akin to their failure to put up even a token challenge to Annette Ziegler for Supreme Court.

Kind would have a unique appeal statewide to the vast sea of moderate, inconsistent, politically independent voters. Voters who lean left and those who lean right will both find something to like about his positions. He’s also extremely disciplined in his message, to the point of being the embodiment of the quintessential Ivy League plastic politician. Think Cam Brady, Will Ferrell’s parody of the entrenched, self-interested congressman in The Campaign.

But perhaps Kind’s greatest strength is the intangible reason why he’s so popular in the Third, anecdotally at least. (I’m qualified to peddle anecdotes about voters’ perceptions of Kind because I worked on Tony Kurtz’s 2014 campaign against him). People LIKE Ron Kind. They see him as a nice guy. Invariably, they think he has their interests in mind out in D.C., neverminding the coincidental nexus of his voting patterns and his vast list of PAC contributors. Were he to run for governor, he would need to translate that reputation, which he’s spent twenty years building in west-central Wisconsin, to the rest of the state.

Were he to run, he’d have to come up with something better than telling people he likes football and guns.

The Walker machine would face a formidable foe in Kind, but they’ve proven extremely effective at what they do, which is to win. How could they do that against Kind? Labeling him a “career politician” is a nonstarter – Walker is one, too. How about a “Washington insider?” That hasn’t hurt him in the past, despite his opponents’ best efforts. But perhaps a better strategy would be to use the populist upswell that manifested in the Sanders surge and Trump triumph against Kind. Introducing Ron Kind to both Trump and Sanders supporters as both a thoroughly embedded establishment insider, a vocal supporter of Obamacare (right) and even more unabashed proponent of anti-labor trade deals (left, labScreen Shot 2017-02-17 at 10.10.12 AMor) could throw a wet blanket on enthusiasm for a Kind candidacy during a potential primary.

Dampening enthusiasm among Democrats, especially the new breed of rabid ones who want to see a Socialist winter descend on the country, could be a winning strategy. Wisconsin as a whole overwhelmingly voted for Sanders (see the map). Meanwhile, shoring up traditional Republican and Trump Republican support for Walker…think “Working and Winning for Wisconsin”…would keep the Walker fires stoked and drive turnout.

There’s also the matter of the Tomah VA “Candyland” scandal, which will be used against any politician with even a Kevin Bacon degree of connection to the Tomah facility that was revealed to be doling out highly addictive opiate painkillers to veterans in unimaginable quantities, resulting in deaths and drug diversion. Far from being twice removed from Tomah, Kind has in fact represented the area for decades, and of all the state and federal politicians whose constituencies overlap in Tomah, Kind is most directly that facility’s overseer in Washington. He would have to answer for that in any high-profile race he undertakes.

Kind will no doubt be facing competing pressures – pressure from within Wisconsin to run for governor, and pressure from Washington to stay in Congress. Kind’s district is already being targeted by Republicans for 2018, one of 36 Democratic-held seats that Trump carried that are on that list. A group called American Action Network is already running ads hitting Kind for his support of Obamacare.

Even with a pittance of outside involvement and money, absent the influx of many, many millions of dollars, Kind is unlikely to be unseated in 2018. But, if he gives up the seat to run for governor, there’s a pretty good chance that a Republican would replace him given the makeup of the district, its history (moderate Republican Steve Gunderson represented the district before Kind) and, of course, the deep Republican bench in the district.

Possibly the top contender would be Republican Tony Kurtz, the 50-year-old veteran, former Apache helicopter pilot, and farmer who pulled nearly 44 percent against Kind in 2014 despite a massive cash disadvantage (although Kurtz outraised Kind among individual donors toward the end of the campaign). Kurtz fits the district well, is extremely popular among the Republican base, and is a superb retail campaigner who could win over Kind’s coalition of moderates and independents in a race without Kind on the ballot. Other possibilities are former state Senator Dan Kapanke, who came within a hair of knocking Kind off in 2010, Sue Lynch of La Crosse, the former president of the National Federation of Republican Women, and any number of Republican officeholders in the Third – Sen. Howard Marklein of Spring Green comes to mind, as does freshman state Senator Patrick Testin of Stevens Point.

To be sure, there are Democrats who could vie for the seat. State Rep. Steve Doyle of Onalaska, Sen. Jennifer Shilling of La Crosse, and state Rep. Dana Wachs of Eau Claire are among them (Wachs has also been mentioned as another possible gubernatorial candidate). Wisconsin Rapids’ 28-year-old mayor, Zach Vruwink, has also been mentioned anecdotally as a potential future candidate.

But it’s time to return to reality. In all likelihood, Kind won’t be giving up his well-paying job-for-life in Congress anytime prior to the time he chooses to retire to a life of fishing, hunting, and watching the Packers from his barcalounger. It’s not likely that Kind will abandon the cushy enclaves of swanky soirees at Bullfeathers and the comfortable social circles of D.C. for a tumultuous – hellish – waltz into the Walker buzzsaw, only to take a five-figure pay cut for a job in which he’ll constantly be butting heads with an almost-certain long-term Republican majority in the state legislature.

He’d be crazy to do so. And if I’ve learned one thing about Ron Kind after being represented by him for 20 years and working on a campaign against him, he’s certainly not crazy.

Anti-Trade Contingent Corners Kind at DNC

Congressman Ron Kind (D-La Crosse) had a bit of a rough time at the Democratic National Convention as he was jeered by anti-trade protesters, who heckled him during an address to the Wisconsin delegation in Philadelphia. The Journal Sentinel reports:

Opponents of a new trade deal interrupted a speech by Democratic Cong. Ron Kind of La Crosse at a breakfast meeting of Wisconsin delegates, then confronted Kind in a hallway afterward over his pro-trade stance.

“Folks, let’s try to be civil with one another. We’re here as a party trying to win elections,” said Kind, when about a half-dozen people stood and chanted during his remarks, holding signs expressing their opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Kind’s speech was interrupted with chants and boos over his stance on free trade, and afterward the protesters interrupted Kind’s media availability. The Journal Sentinel continues:

“We’ve lost thousands and thousands of jobs … we don’t want these trade agreements, but he doesn’t listen,” said Alicia Leinberger, a Sanders delegate from Kind’s district who is running for State Assembly.

Protesters shouted “No TPP!” at Kind as he spoke with reporters afterward and followed him down the hallway.

“I want to know why you want to export my job,” Andrew Walsh, a Sanders delegate from Appleton, asked Kind. “Just give me an answer!”

Kind is facing a Bernie Sanders-inspired primary opponent, Myron Buchholz, who believes Kind’s leadership on trade agreements have harmed the working class in the 3rd Congressional district. At least one union has endorsed Buchholz over the 18-year incumbent. The Western Wisconsin AFL-CIO also seemed to celebrate the anti-Kind hecklers on Twitter.

Despite his district’s overwhelming support for Sanders in the Democratic primary, Kind nonetheless gave his superdelegate vote to Hillary Clinton. And, amid accusations the Democratic Party is rigging its primaries in favor of candidates chosen by party leadership, Buchholz was denied access to crucial data from the party.

Whole thing here.

Buchholz hits Kind hard in new video

In case you hadn’t heard, Ron Kind (D-La Crosse) has a primary challenger. Myron Buchholz, of Eau Claire, says he’s inspired by Bernie Sanders and is displeased with Kind’s moderate stances, especially on issues like free trade.

Kind is a longtime advocate of trade deals like the TPP and NAFTA, which Buchholz says sends jobs overseas. Unions have openly attacked Kind for those positions in the past.

Buchholz – who doesn’t appear to be screwing around – makes his case in this new video:

The Shocking VA Memo that Ron Kind Ignored

The Tomah VA’s abusive over-prescription of narcotic painkillers has shocked veterans and concerned citizens alike in west-central Wisconsin, but so far, politicians like Ron Kind have managed to escape serious questioning about what they knew and when they knew it. However, recent reporting crystallizes prior evidence that Kind did in fact know exactly what was happening and that he did nothing until it became a threat to his image. The issue has been put on the back burner by local media, so first, a little background.

I’ve strongly suggested time after time that Ron Kind knew about the deadly over-prescription practices of the Tomah VA, which has been dubbed “Candyland” because it has leaned on narcotic opiate painkillers as a cure-all for the veterans who relied on their care. This practice has resulted in deaths, such as the death of 35-year-old Jason Simcakoski of Stevens Point and 45-year-old Kraig Ferrington of De Pere, both in Kind’s Congressional district. In the case of Ferrington, Fox 11 reported that when Kraig’s sister would pick him up after a visit to the facility, he was so high on pills he was incoherent. Her requests for him to enter detox were ignored, and her brother’s prescription was simply refilled time after time until his death.

Recently revealed evidence also suggests more deaths may be attributed to the facility’s obsession with narcotics, going back as far as 2008.

In addition to deaths resulting from the over-prescription of narcotics, the Tomah VA’s practices also led to noted instances of “drug diversion” in which legally prescribed drugs are sold on a black market. In a region where heroin and meth have eroded communities that were once strong and proud, there’s little doubt that the Tomah VA has functioned as a hidden nexus of addiction. There’s no telling to what extent the Tomah VA’s “Candyland” habits have harmed communities in west-central Wisconsin by contributing to addition to illegal drugs.

In January, shortly after the news broke via an enterprising journalist in local media a California-based investigative journalism group, I was the first to wonder about what Congressman Ron Kind knew and when he knew it (and I was sure to note that I worked for Kind’s 2014 opponent, Army veteran Tony Kurtz). I had little doubt that Kind, the prototypical politician, had something to hide:

Kind’s office claims it received its first anonymous complaint in 2011. Yet he also claims the Tomah VA “didn’t notify me…they didn’t notify anyone.” In a press conference, Kind dodged all responsibility for the scandal, slyly shifting blame to the VA for his own failure to follow up on complaints while simultaneously offering limp platitudes about the whole situation.

Kind admitted his office heard about the over-prescription practices of the Tomah VA, but left ample room for the whole “well, I’m sure his office gets lots of complaints” thoughts that people use to delude themselves about politicians they habitually return to office cycle after cycle, like 18-year stalwart Ron Kind. New information suggests Kind did not first hear about the situation in 2011, but years earlier.

Following the widespread breaking of the news earlier this year, Kind elbowed other politicians out of the way, took the podium, shoved his finger heavenward, and proposed a “blue ribbon” government commission to investigate the situation. But evidence began to mount that he wasn’t just now finding out about the outrageous over-prescription of serious pain killers and the trampling of whistleblowers. Kind wasn’t rushing to take action acting unearthing an outrage – he was well-prepared with carefully crafted talking points because he had known for a long time that this was coming.

It was clear as far back as January that Ron Kind should have and most likely did know more than his blue-ribbon-commission-proposing gumflapping was letting on. In February, I wrote about an interview by Ryan Honl on Capitol City Sunday:

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”…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.

Honl served as a secretary in the mental health area of the Tomah VA, but after confronting a series of situations that confounded his ethical compass, culimating in the decision to report the blatant drug abuses, and facing constant retaliation for sending those complaints up the ladder, he decided to leave. He has since become known as the face of a guerrilla insurgency against the Tomah VA and its now-dethroned head, David Houlihan. For what it’s worth, Honl is a Democrat.

Yesterday, the La Crosse Tribune Green Bay Press-Gazette reported that several Democrats’ offices were contacted back in 2009 with detailed and shocking information about the Tomah VA’s practices, including Ron Kind. A union representing staff at the Tomah VA prepared the memo, listing as a major concerns the over-prescription problems at the Tomah VA. The memo was not mailed to Kind’s office, sent via carrier pigeon, or tied to a balloon in the hope favorable winds would drop it in front of his district office. It was hand-delivered to Kind at meetings on Capitol Hill. Yet Kind’s office claims it has no recollection of the memo.

The memo makes clear that as far back as 2009, tensions in Tomah over the problem had reached a “boiling point”:

In spring 2009, when Ellinghuysen wrote the memo, tensions about narcotics at Tomah had reached a boiling point. A pharmacist had been fired for refusing to fill large prescriptions. A clinical psychologist received a written reprimand at Houlihan’s direction after he raised concerns that too many opiates were being prescribed.

The memo, located in full here, lists two major concerns of the union. The second one begins, “A second serious concern is the fact that many of the Veterans served at this facility are prescribed large quantities of narcotics” (emphasis NOT added by me). It explains that practitioners who refused to fill Houlihan’s orders for large quantities of narcotic prescriptions were “yelled at and perhaps fired.”

The memo detailed the retaliation against a provider who refused to fill an order for “1,000+ narotic tablets for a 30 day supply for one of Dr. Houlihan’s patients.”  (emphasis added). Take a moment and digest those numbers.

The report further outlines that Houlihan:

  • Counted a complaint to the Patient Advocate against a provider as a “negative event” on the individual’s personnel file (punished them for filing a complaint)
  • Instructed staff not to do urine/drug screenings prior to ordering narcotics for veterans
  • Had earned the nickname “Candy Man” as far back as 2009
  • There were “several unexplained deaths at this Medical Center” including 3 suicides in 2008 by veterans in parked vehicles at the Tomah VA

Put yourself in the shoes of a Congressman who regularly and publicly declares your dedication to veterans in your district. Imagine you’re someone who praised the Tomah VA in your 2014 campaign against a U.S. Army Veteran, in the midst of a nationwide VA scandal. Envision that you’re Ron Kind.

Having been handed a memo making the shocking statements that this memo made back in 2009, how could you just forget that you read it? After multiple complaints over the ensuing years, including one by a concerned whistleblower, how could you praise the Tomah VA in 2014?

Ron Kind knew about these problems for 6 years. He only expressed “outrage” after it became public – which conveniently happened just after the 2014 election.

If Ron Kind isn’t part of the problem facing veterans in this country, I don’t know who is.

Was the Democrat apparatus at work in Candyland scandal?

Now that Marquette Baylor is pushing for her former boss to be investigated, further reporting opens a new series of important questions to be raised. Beyond the abhorrent negligence that indirectly led to the deaths of service men and women, the scandal suggests just how carefully Democrats plan and protect their power.

Dan Bice reports:

The report found that Baldwin’s constituent services team failed to relay constituent concerns to the office’s top staff. From there, the report said, her senior aides took too long to formulate an “effective response” to the problems.

It’s no secret that Democrats, especially in Wisconsin, carve out platforms that hinge simply on not being Republicans — Mary Burke’s trainwreck failed candidacy was a case study in that. But here we see a careful political calculation, not just to protect the Senator, but perhaps also the longtime Congressman who represents Tomah, Rep. Ron Kind. His challenger in 2014, Tony Kurtz, is an Army veteran who gave the entrenched incumbent a run for his money. This kind of scandal could have certainly shaken the foundation of Kind’s lofty stoop.

In giving Baldwin’s team the benefit of the doubt that they would certainly do their best to fly to the aid of ailing and abused veterans, what power structure caused such a delay in action, and why couldn’t something have been done without the requisite media parade?

If that’s not the case, then certainly Baldwin’s team failed to act and people died.

Did the Democrat apparatus in Wisconsin, and perhaps nationally, put pressure on Baldwin’s office to shut down the scandal for the sake of protecting their power in Wisconsin’s Third Congressional District?

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.

Kurtz Demands Accountability

In a column in the La Crosse Tribune, Tony Kurtz goes after Congressman Ron Kind for his passivity in light of the Candyland Scandal at the Tomah VA Medical Center. Kurtz writes:

On May 28, Kind said he was “mad as hell” after learning about problems at VA facilities across the nation. He said he wanted to form a blue ribbon commission to get to the bottom of the delays in providing care.

Kind said the Tomah VA only had minor issues with staff shortages. There was no mention publicly about the complaint his office received in August 2011. If, in fact, Kind was “mad as hell,” why didn’t he ask for the report about the OIG investigation into the Tomah VA?

As a veteran, all we really want is to be treated with respect and receive quality care. The vast majority of VA employees are wonderful caregivers who go the extra mile to take care of veterans.

Apparently Kind wasn’t mad as hell enough to pursue what he knew to be an ongoing issue at the Tomah VAMC. Instead he chose to issue talking points and hope the issue stayed out of headlines until after the election.

Were it not for a California-based investigative journalism outlet, would this story have ever come to light? Or would the over-medication and “drug diversions” (also known as selling prescription drugs on the street) have continued forever?

The drug diversion problem is real. Our region has serious problems with heroin, meth, and drug-related crime. Since many addicts “graduate” from prescription opiates to those hard drugs, there’s no telling what kind of problems this has created in western Wisconsin. A Congressman with the best interests of his constituents in mind, and with an ear to the ground among the law enforcement community, would be on top of this.

This scandal is not minor – people died – and it’s not going away any time soon, especially if good, patriotic people like Kurtz keep the heat on. Kind will no doubt continue to dodge questions, inasmuch as he’s even asked them.

Kind’s office claims it received its first anonymous complaint in 2011, but he also said officials at the Tomah VA “didn’t notify me…they didn’t notify anyone,” in effect shifting attention from his own failure to pursue answers, instead offering limp platitudes, which is Kind’s specialty. Kind also said at one press conference that the Tomah VA staff “candidly admit they dropped the ball” by not falling over themselves to get the report to the almighty Kind and that those bureaucrats now know “they need to keep our offices better informed.”

If Kind is relying on the gears of a demonstrably monstrous, slow, and even dangerously inept bureaucracy to keep his office informed, he’s grossly naive about the dysfunction of government. That or he didn’t care to pursue the facts himself. Kurtz also touches on this dysfunction:

I also question why it takes two to three years to conduct an internal investigation? I have conducted Army-level investigations, and they typically take just four to six weeks, possibly 12 weeks for more complex problems. Just think about the time wasted and the lives that lost because of such delays. The OIG must streamline its investigation process and allow outside organizations to conduct these investigations in a timely manner.

Kind also “lamented allegations of a ‘culture of intimidation’ that frustrates staff members who raise issues about care.” As I commented in a previous post, these are the words of a lazy congressman who for some reason voters were scammed into re-electing – a congressman who apparently has given as much thought to the staff members being frustrated that their concerns fell on deaf ears as the health of the affected veterans. Real leaders aren’t reactive, they’re proactive for the good of – at the very least – the people they claim to care about.

Ron Kind spends a lot of time at ribbon cutting ceremonies at VFWs and American Legions. There were no photo ops at the Tomah VA.

Kurtz, a 20-year veteran who now runs a farm and small business, ran against Kind last fall. It was the most competitive congressional race in Wisconsin that year, but he still lost 43-57. One wonders what impact the revelation that Kind may have been sitting on years of complaints about the Tomah VA’s practices would’ve had on the election. The district does boast a large number of veterans, veterans who Kind has claimed to represent.

It’s a shame he didn’t care enough to get out of the Congressional Gym and find some answers.