Tomah VA Chief of Staff Fired after Prescription Drug Scandal

According to VA officials, the psychiatrist who has been at the center of a prescription drug scandal at the Tomah, WI Veterans Affairs Medical Center has been terminated from employment without any settlement or negotiation as of Monday, October 26th.

The medical center’s Chief of Staff, Dr. David Houlihan, was on administrative leave since January 16th while investigation was underway. There were allegations that he had improperly and excessively prescribed pain medications to patients, to the point where he was nicknamed the “Candy Man.”

The Associated Press reported the news of Houlihan’s termination on Friday, October 30th, followed by VA officials confirming in a statement that his relief would be effective Nov. 9. It was also reported that he was fired and unable to retire, unlike some other VA administrators who have previously been allowed to do so.

VA officials also added that Dr. Houlihan’s clinical privileges have been revoked.

“The letter communicating removal specified a future effective date because, by VA policy, Title 38 employees are not subject to immediate termination, but are generally entitled to receive notice of the decision to terminate at least five days prior to the effective date of the action,” said a VA spokesman.

Houlihan is the second official to be fired from the Tomah facility. The medical center director, Mario DeSanctis, left in September, but entered into a settlement that allowed him to resign, according to House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman, Jeff Miller, R-Fla.

On Monday, Miller stated that Houlihan’s dismissal is “genuinely surprising,” since the VA fires officials “so infrequently.”

“The curious nature of Houlihan’s departure coupled with the fact that he is still on paid leave nearly 10 months after VA began investigating him underscores the unfortunate truth that department leaders refuse to admit: it is much too difficult to fire failed VA employees,” said Miller.

“This past January, VA senior leaders became aware of allegations that the Tomah VAMC Chief of Staff engaged in improper opioid prescribing practices and retaliatory behavior […] based on results of reviews, his removal from federal service and revocation of clinical privileges was proposed on Sept. 17,” said VA officials in a written statement.

Houlihan and other officials from the Tomah VA have been scrutinized since the Center for Investigative Reporting revealed in January that the Veterans Hospital had a 14-fold increase in the number of prescribed oxycodone pills from 2004 to 2012, from 50,000 to 712,000.

Deborah Frasher, a nurse practitioner also involved in the scandal, has been on administrative leave since March.

The Center for Investigative Reporting article started another round of inquiries into the prescribing practices of the Tomah Veterans Medical Center and also highlighted the wrongful death of a former Marine, Jason Simcakoski, who passed away on August 30, 2014, from “mixed drug toxicity” at the facility.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., said that Houlihan’s termination and revocation of his license were “long overdue,” but it shows that, “change is possible and provides new-found hope that trusts can be restored” at the VA.

“The trust has been broken and it needs to be fixed. That is why I have introduced [legislation] that has earned the support of his family and a number of veteran service organizations to provide the tools it needs to help prevent this type of tragedy from occurring to other veterans and their families,” stated Baldwin.

In late September, a veterans group displayed a billboard near the Tomah VAMC, demanding a change in the VA, stating, “VA is Lying, Veterans are Dying!”

A former Tomah employee, Ryan Honl, now a whistleblower and member of the “VA is Lying” Facebook group, says he hopes Houlihan will face criminal charges.

“In the real world, people would be amazed if you didn’t get criminally charged for harming patients and retaliating against those who exposed it,” said Honl.

The Archuleta Law Firm handles injury, death, and veterans medical malpractice claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act. We handle claims in all 50 States and Worldwide. Our focus is helping Veterans, and the families of Veterans and Military Service Members in their claims involving Veterans (VA) Hospitals, Doctors and Clinics and Military Hospitals, Doctors and Clinics. We handle claims involving the Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Army, the U.S. Navy, and the U.S. Air Force.

Source: Military Times