Lawmakers Hear Emotional Testimony At Congressional Hearing On Tomah VA

Family Of Veterans Who Died At Center Call For Those Responsible To Be Held Accountable

Maureen McCollum/WPR

At a Congressional hearing in Tomah on Monday, family members of veterans led an emotional call for the people responsible for deaths at a nearby VA clinic to be held accountable.

The father and wife of Marine veteran Jason Simcakoski told a panel of eight members of Congress that his death, linked to a lethal cocktail of drugs while he was a patient at the Tomah VA, may not have happened if doctors listened to their concerns about him being overmedicated.

Dr. Noelle Johnson, left, prepares to testify along with fellow whistleblower Ryan Honl. Maureen McCollum/WPR

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Sen. Ron Johnson talks with the family of Jason Simcaskoski, who died at the Tomah VA after he was given a lethal cocktail of prescription drugs. Maureen McCollum/WPR.

Candace Delis testified that her father, Army veteran Thomas Baer, may still be alive if Tomah VA staff weren’t slow to treating his multiple strokes.

“I am ashamed to live in a country where men and women are sent to fight wars where they suffer horrible injuries and mental trauma, and when they return, instead of being rewarded for their service and treated with respect, they are ignored, neglected and left to die,” said Delis.

Delis said her family intends to sue the VA.

At the hearing, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin asked that 24 additional deaths at the facility be investigated.

Lawmakers also heard from whistleblowers at the clinic. Former Tomah VA pharmacist Dr. Noelle Johnson said she was fired from the facility after she refused to fill certain prescriptions that she considered unsafe and illegal. She said stronger legislation is needed to guard people who question authority.

“The laws currently set in place absolutely don’t protect whistleblowers,” said Johnson. “They protect the management. People are afraid to stand up. The one person that did stand up, the example was me and they fired me. What not to do to keep your job — a precedent was set.”

A few bills relating to whistleblower protections and fighting retaliation within the VA have been introduced in Congress.

Baldwin said other VA medical facilities in the region besides Tomah are under investigation for retaliation.

Here’s a list of everyone who testified at the hearing. The lawmakers in attendance were:

  • Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.
  • Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis.
  • Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis.
  • Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis.
  • Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis.
  • Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-La.
  • Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla.
  • Rep. Tim Waltz, D-Minn.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated with a list of people who testified at the hearing and the lawmakers in attendance.