Tags: VA Scandal | Tammy Baldwin | Wisconsin | Tomah VA Hospital

Wisconsin Sen. Baldwin Fires Senior Aide in VA Scandal

Image: Wisconsin Sen. Baldwin Fires Senior Aide in VA Scandal
Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis. (Allison Shelley/Getty Images)

By    |   Monday, 26 Jan 2015 03:56 PM

Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, under intense criticism for failing to respond to a scandal at a Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Tomah, has fired one of her top staffers.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported Monday that Marquette Baylor, Baldwin's deputy state director and head of her Milwaukee office, had been ousted on Thursday without explanation. Baylor has reportedly been offered a cash payout if she agreed not to discuss what took place.

It is unclear how the payout would be financed and whether taxpayer dollars would be involved, according to the Journal-Sentinel.

Sources would not say how large the payoff would be, adding only that it would amount to "less than six figures."

But Ryan Honl – a former Tomah VA employee and whistleblower who had repeatedly pressed Baldwin's office to take action – said Baylor's ouster was insufficient and expressed objection to her reported severance deal.

Honl said that in late November, he spent several hours talking with Baylor about problems at the Tomah facility.

But Baylor (who spent more than a decade as a staffer for then-Democrat Sen. Herb Kohl) discouraged Honl from taking his concerns public, saying it could result in her firing and jeopardize others' jobs, he claimed.

"I get run out of my job and she gets a golden parachute for [expletive] veterans?" Honl said.

On Friday, Baldwin's chief of staff, Bill Murat, held a three-hour meeting with Honl. During the session, Murat apologized for how the senator's office handled the Tomah matter.

Based on Murat's remarks, it was evident that Baylor lost her job as a result of complaints about the situation there, Honl said.

Baylor's allies claim that she did inform Murat about problems at the Tomah facility, located about 165 miles northwest of Milwaukee. But Murat gave the impression that he was unaware of the problems there, Honl said.

Over the weekend, Murat and Sen. Baldwin reportedly met with other whistleblowers in the Tomah area.

"What choice do they have?" Honl asked. "Her staff was completely and totally incompetent. But they understand the gravity now."

An inspection report from the Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General found last year that officials at the Tomah VA Medical Center had been prescribing huge quantities of opiate pain pills to patients.

Although Baldwin's office received a copy of the report in August, she did not request an investigation into the Tomah facility until media reports this month about the death of Jason Simcakoski, who suffered a fatal drug overdose there on Aug. 30.

Honl said he heard nothing from Baldwin's office until the Center for Investigative Reporting issued a Jan. 8 report detailing the inspector general's findings and providing details of Simcakoski's death.

Honl said he also reached out to Republican Sen. Ron Johnson and Democrat Rep. Ron Kind, but got little response until the media began covering the issue this month. Since that occurred, Honl said federal lawmakers have been very responsive to his concerns.

"They were caught with their pants down," he added.

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Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, under intense criticism for failing to respond to a scandal at a Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Tomah, has fired one of her top staffers.
Tammy Baldwin, Wisconsin, Tomah VA Hospital
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2015-56-26
Monday, 26 Jan 2015 03:56 PM
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