- Associated Press - Thursday, June 2, 2016

LA CROSSE, Wis. (AP) - Phone records released in a Senate committee investigation show a Marine veteran contacted U.S. Rep. Ron Kind before he died in 2014 at the U.S. Veterans Affairs facility in Tomah.

Jason Simcakoski called Kind’s office nine months before he died from a toxic mix of more than a dozen drugs, the La Crosse Tribune reported Thursday (https://tinyurl.com/gw2h5m5 ) citing phone records released as part of the probe.

Inspectors for the VA in 2014 found that doctors were over-prescribing opioid painkillers, leading to the Tomah facility being nicknamed “Candy Land” by some veterans. The deaths of three people who were cared for at Tomah remain under investigation. The VA probe also determined there was an atmosphere of fear among staff members, which affected patient care, and that those who spoke out were subject to intimidation.

The Senate committee report released this week pointed to failures of VA officials and the department’s watchdog agency to intervene.

The phone records show Simcakoski made 29 calls to law enforcement agencies. He also made a nearly eight-minute call to Kind’s Washington office in November 2013.

Kind, a Democrat, said Tuesday that he had no knowledge of the call but his office will “conduct a thorough review” of its files, saying if someone called his office and asked for help “then a case file would have been started immediately.”

Kind, along with Republican Sen. Ron Johnson and Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, expressed outrage when the Tomah allegations first surfaced, though all have been criticized for not acting sooner.

According to the report released Tuesday by a Senate committee chaired by Johnson, the facility’s former police chief acknowledged its reputation as a “big pill box” in 2009, and the Drug Enforcement Administration has been investigating possible drug diversion there for more than seven years.

Several Tomah VA officials - including former director Mario Desanctis and former chief of staff David Houlihan - have been fired. Patients nicknamed Houlihan “candy man” for over-prescribing narcotics.

Simcakoski, who had been treated at the facility on multiple occasions between 2005 and 2014 for mental health issues including an addition to painkillers, was 35 when he died in Tomah’s mental health ward.

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