Candyland: Veteran’s Administration – Tomah, WI

Wisconsin’s two Senators, Johnson (R) and Baldwin (D) conducted a hearing yesterday concerning “Candyland” otherwise known as the Veteran’s Administration Medical Center, in Tomah, WI.  First, it was nice to see both Wisconsin Senators cooperating on this very serious matter since they have often been at odds over bills in the U.S. Senate as you might imagine, and it was also disappointing to see that it took until 2016 for this hearing to be convened.

“Candyland” is the name ascribed to the Tomah, WI VA Medical Center by the veterans treated there and by their families.  That reflects the reputation of this center being a big dispenser of pain killers (opioids) to veterans.  A number of deaths can be attributed to this habit of over-prescribing opioids.  It was and is scandalous!

The “Candyman” was Dr. David Houlihan and his right-hand was Nurse Practitioner Deborah Frasher.  Almost sounds like an episode from a  M.A.S.H television show, but there is nothing humorous about this.  During a 2012 investigation at that facility, both Dr. Houlihan and NP Frasher were suspected of being “impaired” given their physical appearance.  In one reported case, a veteran already taking 14 different medications was given a prescription for a fifteenth medication.

This brought the two Wisconsin senators together and, given their party differences, that was good to see.  It does serve as a common cause and that enables them to temporarily set aside their party affiliations in the context of this investigation.

Sen. Johnson is being challenged by the former senator, Russ Feingold, in this election cycle, and that promises to be a very heated campaign on both sides.  This Senate hearing was ‘in the field’ in the Tomah, WI area.

A Deputy Secretary of the VA, Sloan Gibson, appeared at the hearing and said that “more than anything else this is a leadership failure”, and went on the say that “at the end of the day, we ( the VA) own this”.

Veterans died as the result of the over-prescribing.  People with loved ones that had to use the Tomah, WI facility knew there was a propensity for opioid over-prescription because their loved ones were obviously over-medicated.

There is, as you might expect, political back and forth with finger-pointing between the two parties as to where this blame ought to be placed.  The politicians within the area containing Tomah, as well as the two U.S. Senators from Wisconsin, have a vested interest in getting to the bottom of this scandalous practice.

Let us hope this hearing will be the final straw that breaks the back of this practice, and that all those responsible will ultimately be held responsible by the imposition of penalties that match the gravity of the practices.

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