Lawmakers Call for Investigation of Veterans Hospital Accused of Distributing Pain Medication 'Like Candy'

A recent report said some veterans call a Wisconsin hospital "Candy Land" because of how much medication its doctors distribute to treat pain.

Members of the Wisconsin congressional delegation are jumping on an investigative report that suggests that doctors at a Wisconsin Veterans Affairs hospital prescribed pain medication to patients "like candy."

Republicans Sen. Ron Johnson and Rep. Sean Duffy on Wednesday called for an investigation into a Veterans Affairs hospital in Tomah, Wis. A recent report by the Center for Investigative Reporting found that patients had nicknamed the medical facility "Candy Land" for its high number of pain medication prescriptions.

Johnson and Duffy asked the VA Office of the Inspector General in a letter to answer specific questions about the report and the results of an earlier VA investigation into the hospital.

"Reports questioning the prescribing practices at the VA Medical Center in Tomah are cause for alarm," Johnson said in a Wednesday statement. "As chairman of the Senate committee overseeing the way government agencies operate, I am requesting the Inspector General's Office get to the bottom of this matter."

According to the CIR report, in the eight years after the hospital's current chief of staff, David Houlihan, took office, opiate prescriptions more than quintupled, even as the number of patients at the Tomah VA went down.

The report, which was released last week, says patients were so "doped up" that they'd often fell asleep and drooled during appointments, and even burned themselves with cigarettes. Anyone who raised objections was likely to be punished, hospital staff told CIR.

Democrats Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Rep. Ron Kind, also of Wisconsin, on Monday asked Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald to conduct an investigation into the allegations. "The allegations made in this report are extremely serious and require immediate action," Kind said in a Monday statement.

"We are taking these allegations very seriously," Tomah Veterans Affairs Director Mario DeSanctis said in response to the CIR report last week. "We will investigate each accusation to the fullest extent to swiftly take appropriate action and share these findings with the public."

The latest reports of misconduct at a Veterans Affairs hospital come after last year's revelation that dozens of veterans died while waiting for treatment at a hospital in Phoenix. The resulting scrutiny resulted in the resignation of then-Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.