- Associated Press - Thursday, February 19, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - A congressional hearing prompted by three deaths and reports of overmedication at a Veterans Affairs medical center in Tomah will be held locally, officials said Thursday.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who said last month she accepts responsibility for not acting sooner, is now being advised by a Democratic political lawyer, and the Republican Party of Wisconsin has filed an ethics complaint against her related to how her office handled the matter.

Several members of Congress had asked for a hearing into allegations of overprescribed medication at the medical center as well as retaliatory practices against employees who spoke about it. The chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Veterans Affairs, Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida, said the hearing will be in Tomah. But the date and details have not yet been set.

The center, which came under scrutiny last month when former employees and the families of former patients alleged that doctors overprescribed narcotics, is already under investigation by the VA’s Office of the Inspector General and the Veterans Affairs Secretary of Health. The deaths of Thomas Baer, 74, of Marshfield, last month; Jason Simcakoski, 35, of Stevens Point in 2014; and Jacob Ward, 27, of Milwaukee in 2013, prompted state representatives to call for a federal probe.

Also, political lawyer Marc Elias said in a statement Thursday that he will advise Baldwin after her former deputy state director accused Baldwin of wrongfully terminating her. Marquette Baylor was fired last month amid allegations that Baldwin’s office did not respond appropriately to the reports of overmedication.

Elias said in a statement that Baylor was terminated for a variety of reasons.

“Her handling of the problems at the Tomah VA was only one of those issues,” Elias said in a statement.

Elias said Baylor was offered a separation agreement that included a confidentiality clause. The agreement is standard language from the Senate Chief Counsel for Employment, Elias said. Baylor has turned down the offer.

Baldwin’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Republicans said Baldwin’s choice to bring on Elias indicates an effort to cover up details surrounding Baylor’s termination.

“If Sen. Baldwin has nothing to hide, then she probably wouldn’t have hired the national Democrat’s most high-profile cleanup attorney right after her former staffer refused a severance package that included a confidentiality clause,” said Republican National Committee spokesman Fred Brown.

Elias said he was brought on as counsel to Baldwin during her campaign and was asked to help in this matter.

The Republican Party of Wisconsin filed a complaint against Baldwin on Thursday with the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Ethics. The complaint says Baldwin misappropriated taxpayer funds to pay an employee - Baylor - who was not performing official duties

“We’re calling for an investigation to determine Baldwin’s role in a scandal that has already revealed an elaborate cover-up and illegal hush money,” said Republican Party of Wisconsin Executive Director Joe Fadness.

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Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter at https://twitter.com/bydanaferguson .


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