Group Hits Feingold for ‘Inaction’ at VA Facility Following Death of Marine

Memo ‘hand-delivered’ to Feingold warned of over prescription of drugs at VA medical center where veteran died

Russ Feingold
Russ Feingold / AP

Conservative groups in Wisconsin are criticizing Russ Feingold for not taking action after being "hand-delivered" a 2009 memo about a Veterans Affairs medical facility that was over-prescribing opiates to patients and, five years later, saw a Marine die from an overdose.

Wisconsin Alliance for Reform, a conservative group within the state, is running print and radio ads against Feingold, the former Democratic senator who is attempting to regain his seat from Sen. Ron Johnson (R.), hitting him for not acting on the memo warning of what was happening at the medical center.

"In 2009, Senator Russ Feingold received a hand-delivered report warning that dangerous amounts of narcotics were prescribed to veterans at the VA medical center in Tomah," the radio ad begins. "The doctor in charge of this center was nicknamed the ‘candy man’. In one case, he prescribed 1,000 narcotics pills for just 30 days. Senator Russ Feingold failed to act, the abuse of veterans continued, and in 2014, a 35-year-old Marine died from an overdose of narcotics at the VA center in Tomah."

"An autopsy revealed 14 different drugs in his system," it continues. "Now, Russ Feingold is claiming he never received the memo, but documents included in a police report show that the report was hand-delivered to his office. When our leaders fail to take action, the consequences can be deadly."

A spokesman for Feingold told USA Today in 2015 that they performed a "thorough review" of Feingold’s archived Senate records and that there was no evidence that the former senator had ever received the memo.

Former Rep. David Obey (D., Wis.), who was also listed on the memo submitted as part of a 2009 police report detailing the suicide of a doctor who had just been fired from the Tomah VA, also claimed that he did not recall receiving the document, but that "such incoming correspondence would have been destroyed when they left office."

Feingold’s campaign did not return a request for comment seeking exactly what documents they reviewed by press time.

The 2009 memo in question was written by a union president and warned of "large quantities of narcotic prescriptions" ordered by the Tomah VA chief of staff, Dr. David Houlihan.

"It is a known fact that if providers or pharmacists refuse to follow Dr. Houlihan’s orders, they will be yelled at and perhaps fired," the memo states.

Five years later, in 2014, a Marine who had been prescribed a deadly mixture of drugs by the medical center overdosed. Dr. Houlihan was fired from the facility in October 2015.

The Tomah VA scandal has taken center stage in Wisconsin after the ad campaign from the Wisconsin Alliance for Reform.

"The ad claims that somehow our office knew about this. That's not true," Feingold recently said at a campaign stop.

Chris Martin, the communications director for Wisconsin Alliance for Reform, said that Feingold is trying to avoid being held accountable for his inaction.

"The scrambled response from Senator Feingold and his allies has underlined their desperation to shift blame and feign ignorance to avoid being held accountable," Martin told the Washington Free Beacon.

"Instead of making bizarre statements about searching for records that should have been destroyed when he left office in 2011, Feingold should come clean with Wisconsin about his failure to take action."