(UPDATED) VA Painkiller Scandal Surrounding Sen. Tammy Baldwin Grows
UPDATE (5:00 p.m. EST): The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports today that Baldwin has hired high-powered Washington attorney Marc Elias to represent her in the event Marquette Baylor files a wrongful termination suit alleging sexual discrimination.
Marc Elias is known as a Democratic super-lawyer, chairman of the firm Perkins Cole. The firm was founded by Bob Bauer, a close legal advisor to Obama ever since Obama ran for the Senate in 2005, and former chief counsel to Obama from Jan 2011 through June 2012. Elias took over the chairmanship when Bauer went to the White House.
As reported by PJ Media last month, Wisconsin Democrat Senator Tammy Baldwin has been accused by a whistleblower of refusing to take action for months after being informed of a prescription drug scandal at a local VA hospital.
At the Tomah hospital, chief of staff David Houlihan had been issuing vast amounts of prescription opiates to veterans. One ex-combat Marine died of an overdose. After months of e-mails and several meetings with Baldwin’s senior staffer Marquette Baylor that led to no action, the frustrated whistleblower leaked the story to USA Today.
After the paper ran the story, Baldwin suddenly demanded hearings. Baldwin then claimed Baylor had withheld the whistleblower’s report from her, and Baldwin fired her. Reportedly, Baylor was offered a five-figure severance package in exchange for signing a non-disclosure agreement.
At issue is what Baylor actually did with the information provided by the whistleblower. The whistleblower had been trying to get Baldwin’s attention as long ago as August of last year. Baldwin actually visited the facility in July 2014 -- she reportedly discerned no problems, and praised the facility to the local newspaper, the Tomah Journal. Said Baldwin:
Those who identified Tomah as the primary hospital where they refer patients had really positive things to say, and we didn’t just ask about the wait times. It’s a very veteran- and patient-centered model that’s getting strong and positive reviews.
A month after this rave review, Baldwin’s office obtained a copy of the VA inspector general’s report on the facility through a Freedom of Information Act request. The report found that Houlihan had issued prescriptions for over 712,000 oxycodone pills in 2012, a massive increase over the roughly 50,000 which had been dispensed in 2004, the year before Houlihan became chief of staff at the hospital. This huge increase happened despite a drop in the number of veterans being served.
Houlihan’s nickname among the facility’s patients was the “candy man.” Some patients were reportedly so drugged that they were unconscious in waiting rooms, and some had even burnt themselves with cigarettes by accident while drugged.
Baldwin has been ducking attempts by Wisconsin media to ask her basic questions concerning the whistleblower’s story and her months of inactivity before the Marine’s tragic death. Baldwin’s silence has only made the scandal grow.
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel columnist Dan Bice now reports that the deadline for acceptance of the package has expired, and Baylor has not agreed to the “golden parachute.” Instead, Baylor has reportedly hired a team of attorneys to explore a suit against Baldwin for wrongful termination, possibly on grounds of sexual discrimination. Baylor was reported to have been the highest-placed heterosexual on Baldwin’s staff (Baldwin is Wisconsin’s first lesbian senator).
Baylor’s role in this is still not clear, but her refusal to accept Baldwin’s offer and her exploration of a possible lawsuit are both evidence that the story will not go away, and are hopeful signs that the truth may yet be revealed.