- Associated Press - Monday, January 26, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald announced Monday that he will launch an investigation into a Tomah VA medical center that came under scrutiny for overprescribing opiates after a Marine died there.

The monthlong investigation to begin this week will look into allegations about the use of opiates as well as retaliation against employees, McDonald said in a statement.

“While important changes are being made to improve services to Wisconsin veterans immediately, we must ensure that we fully investigate the issues surrounding the possible overuse of powerful medicines and to share these lessons learned throughout our health care system,” McDonald said Monday.

He cited inquiries from Rep. Ron Kind and Sen. Tammy Baldwin for bringing the issue to his attention.

Baldwin, in a column published in newspapers across the state Sunday, said she accepts responsibility for her office mishandling accusations that the center overprescribed opiates and she should have called for an investigation sooner.

The senator said she should have listened and communicated better with the constituent who first brought the issues to her attention in March. Baldwin sent inquiries to the VA’s Office of the Inspector General seeking additional information about an investigation about overuse of opiates at the hospital, but did not receive a copy of the Inspector General’s report until August.

A 35-year-old former Marine died of an overdose in the center’s inpatient care unit in August.

Baldwin said she is willing to be held accountable for errors made by her office and believes a 2014 investigation by the VA’s Office of the Inspector General fell short in exposing problems at the medical center.

“I take full responsibility for any mistakes we made because I not only share (a constituent’s) belief that the report’s conclusion fell short, but I also share his commitment to exposing problems at the VA and working on solutions,” Baldwin said in her column.

Baldwin’s chief of staff, Bill Murat, declined to comment Monday on a newspaper report that the chief of the senator’s Milwaukee office had been dismissed for her handling of the matter. Murat said it was a personnel matter.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, citing unidentified sources, had reported Monday that Marquette Baylor was fired Thursday. Baylor did not immediately return messages left on her cellphone.


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

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