Tammy Baldwin Quietly Left Committee With Oversight of Scandal-Plagued Wis. VA Facility

Republican Party of Wisconsin says Baldwin fled from her responsibilities

Tammy Baldwin / AP

Tammy Baldwin / AP

BY: Joe Schoffstall
February 25, 2017 5:00 am

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D., Wis.) has quietly stepped away from the committee that has oversight over a scandal-plagued Wisconsin Veterans Affairs facility, actions some Republicans see as the Democratic senator running from her past failures on the issue.

Baldwin served on the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee throughout the 114th Congress but does not appear to be on the committee in the 115th Congress, according to its roster.

The committee has oversight over the Tomah VA, a VA facility in Wisconsin that was over-prescribing opiates to patients and saw a Marine die from an overdose.

A memo, first circulated in 2009, warned of the dangerous amounts of narcotics that were being ordered by Dr. David Houlihan, the Tomah VA chief of staff, and prescribed to veterans at the Tomah VA center.

Individuals at the center feared objecting to the orders of Dr. Houlihan, who received the nickname "the candy man."

"It is a known fact that if providers or pharmacists refuse to follow Dr. Houlihan’s orders, they will be yelled at and perhaps fired," the memo stated.

Five years later, in 2014, a veteran was prescribed a lethal mixture of drugs by the medical center and overdosed. Dr. Houlihan was fired from the facility in 2015.

It was later discovered that Baldwin, who was first elected to the Senate in 2012, was the only member of Congress from Wisconsin to receive an official federal government Inspector General report on the abuses at Tomah. However, Baldwin did not take action until more than four months later after the scandal became public, according to reports.

A former staffer of Baldwin, Marquette Baylor, was ousted from her position as deputy state director over the controversy.

Baylor was offered a severance package that came with a stipulation of signing a confidentiality agreement, according to news reports at the time. The amount that Baylor would have received is not known. Baylor rejected the severance package.

Heather Fluty Simcakoski, the widow of the veteran who died at the facility, previously said that Baldwin's handling of the VA report on Tomah was "frustrating" to her.

"She said (she's) so sorry for our loss, and that she takes very serious those things, but not, ‘Sorry for not reading the report,'" Simcakoski said during an interview in 2015.

A spokesman for the Republican Party of Wisconsin told the Washington Free Beacon that Sen. Baldwin is running from the issue rather than standing up for Wisconsin veterans.

"Senator Baldwin's decision to run from her failures rather than stand up for Wisconsin's veterans is shameful," Alec Zimmerman said. "Instead of fighting for reforms to the system by participating in the ongoing oversight of the Tomah VA by the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, she has embraced the Washington status quo and fled her responsibilities to solve the problem. Nothing can change the fact that Senator Baldwin failed to act when she had reason to believe Wisconsin's veterans were in danger."

Sen. Baldwin's office did not return a request for comment by press time.