Bill Glauber in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel branch of Gannett newspapers did his best to rehab Senator Tammy Baldwin’s reputation. In a report from the Tomah Veterans Administration Hospital, Glauber reports on a visit of the senator with the Simcakoski family to talk about the effort by Baldwin to stop opioid abuse at the facility after a federal probe.
However, Glauber’s story completely ignores the role Baldwin played in covering up the problems at the Tomah VA facility. Baldwin’s visit was the senator returning to the scene of the crime.
In 2014, Baldwin’s office sat on a report for months that there were problems. As the Green Bay Press Gazette, another Gannett newspaper, reported in January 2015:
A whistleblower who learned in November that Baldwin had had a copy for months and hadn’t acted, repeatedly emailed her office asking that she do something to help the veterans at the center, according to copies of the emails obtained by USA TODAY.
In them the whistleblower — former Tomah VA employee Ryan Honl — asked that Baldwin call for an investigation, that she push colleagues on the Veterans Affairs committee to take action, and that she help bring the issues in the report to public attention. The report had not been made public, but Baldwin’s office received a copy in August.
When she still had not taken public action in December, Honl sent a message to her staffer with the subject line: “Final plea for Help from Senator Baldwin.”
“All we ask is that our senator publicly support our desire to have an open forum rather than remain silent publicly, which is what the VA does in hiding reports from the public,” Honl wrote.
Honl, a Gulf War vet and West Point graduate who left the Tomah facility in October, said in an interview Monday he believes Baldwin’s inaction after receiving the report is a “travesty.”
Baldwin’s office declined to explain what she did between receiving the report in August and last week, when she called for an investigation after the Center for Investigative Reporting published details of the inspection report outlining opiate prescription amounts at the center and recounting the overdose death in August of a 35-year-old Marine Corps veteran while he was an inpatient.
The Press Gazette also reported:
Aides to Baldwin did not respond to multiple messages asking what the senator did in response to the inspection report she received, or how she responded to the whistleblower’s emails.
According to the emails provided to USA TODAY, on Nov. 12, Honl learned about the report’s existence and that a copy had been given to Baldwin’s office, and so he asked for a copy in an email to Baldwin aide Mike Helbick. Honl said he received no response. Two weeks later, he obtained his own copy of the report and began urging in emails to Helbick that the senator do something.
“It is very disconcerting that a United States Senator would have been able to read the report and yet government still has allowed the Tomah leadership to ruin lives and run good doctors and physicians out of the facility,” he wrote on Nov. 24.
“Do you think that’s proper that a nurse practitioner … is ranked the number one prescriber of opiates out of 3,206 physicians in the (region)?”
The next day, he forwarded an article from Georgia about a vet hooked on morphine saying: “This thing is going to hit home pretty soon in Tomah. Just making you aware.”
A week later, he emailed again recounting a conversation he had had with another member of Baldwin’s staff who he said told him to be patient and to let the senator’s staff “take your time doing something about it because there is a ‘process’ that must be followed.” Honl said Monday the aide also told him not to talk to the press.
“My question is, how long do veterans who are addicted to opiates at the Tomah VA, that are also flooding the streets of Tomah, have to wait to receive proper treatment,” he wrote Dec. 2. “When will Senator Baldwin say ‘enough is enough’ and push for better treatment of veterans and a better culture free of intimidation and retaliation in Tomah and VA wide for those who whistle-blow?
“Is it really going to take the media to shame Senator Baldwin and the VA to finally give veterans the proper care they deserve and employees a safe place to question leadership about unethical practices?”
After the scandal of Baldwin’s inaction was unearthed, Glauber’s colleague at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Dan Bice reported a staff member of the senator had been fired, and then an attempt was made to give the staff member a severance deal with a non-disclosure agreement to keep her quiet.
No Quarter [Bice] reported that Baldwin canned Baylor on Jan. 22 in response to the growing controversy at the troubled Tomah VA Medical Center. Baylor made $80,000 in 2014.
But Baldwin and her staff won’t even acknowledge terminating Baylor. More important, they won’t disclose the proposed five-figure severance deal offered to Baylor that would have required her to keep quiet about the Tomah mess.
Somehow none of this made it into Glauber’s report of Baldwin’s visit to the Tomah VA facility. Nor did Glauber ask the Simcakoski family if they were disappointed that the senator’s office ignored repeated requests to do something about the troubled VA hospital.
When Baldwin returned to the scene of the crime, the least Glauber could have done is ask the senator if she has any regrets about the veterans who died while her office did nothing to save them. But that wasn’t as important to Glauber as putting up a nice puff story to go with a nice picture of Baldwin posing with the Simacakoskis. Will the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel be giving her re-election campaign free copies of the photo?