Wednesday, February 18, 2015

NAME THAT PARTY: U.S. senator still silent on proposed payout deal with staffer amid VA scandal


By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON, Wis. — Tammy’s still not talking.
Even as Sen. Tammy Baldwin calls for the U.S. Department of Justice to launch “an immediate” investigation into allegations the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Tomah overprescribed opiate-based pain medication, the Madison Democrat has yet to disclose details on the reported firing of one of her top state aides in the wake of a growing scandal.
Baldwin did not return Wisconsin Reporter’s calls and emails Tuesday seeking comment nearly a month after she reportedly fired Marquette Baylor, who led Baldwin’s Milwaukee office.
AP file photo
AP file photo
KEEPING SECRETS: U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., still isn’t talking about a reported secret severance package offered to a fired staffer amid the Tomah VA Medical Center scandal.
An investigative story last month found Baldwin did nothing with an inspection report warning Tomah VA medical center staff members have prescribed potentially dangerous amounts of pain pills to patients.
In a letter last week requesting the DOJ investigate the center, the senator said she’s “extremely troubled about reports linking the tragic deaths of three Wisconsin veterans to improper care at the facility.”
“Additionally, I have heard concerns regarding the conduct of the Tomah VA and the Tomah VA Police Department in response to the deaths that occurred at the facility. Finally, concerns regarding the illegal distribution and use of prescription drugs that originated at the Tomah VA facility have been raised,” Baldwin wrote.
But Baldwin did not call for an investigation until after an investigative report detailing the concerns broke in early January, months after a whistleblower reportedly begged Baldwin’s office to do something.
The senator did do something, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. She fired Baylor on Jan. 22, apparently in response to the public relations heat Baldwin was taking.
Sources last month told the newspaper Baldwin’s office offered a severance package to Baylor, a cash payout with a confidentiality deal.
Among myriad questions surrounding the reports is this: Would taxpayer cash be included in what critics of the secret agreement describe as hush money?
Bill Murat, Baldwin’s chief of staff, issued a statement late last month that, as the Journal Sentinel’s Dan Bice put it, said nothing.
“We do not comment on personnel matters,” Murat said, as quoted by the newspaper.
Sources tell Wisconsin Reporter that Baylor did not take Baldwin’s deal and now has an attorney. Baylor could not be reached for comment.
In an op-ed piece last month headlined, “We can do better for Wisconsin’s veterans,”the senator said her office acted promptly.
“When my office was first contacted by a constituent last March with concerns about the Tomah VA, we immediately brought those concerns to the Tomah VA and then to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs headquarters in Washington D.C., and the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG),” Baldwin wrote. She blamed the OIG for not publicly releasing the report.
Baldwin acknowledged mistakes were made and that her office “should have done a better job of listening to and communicating with another constituent with whom we were working on problems at the VA.”
Still, Baldwin’s secret proposed payout to her fired staffer continues to politically dog Wisconsin’s junior senator.
“For months, Tammy Baldwin has refused to answer serious questions about her role in this tragedy, even working to silence former staffers,” said Joe Fadness, executive director of the Republican Party of Wisconsin. “Baldwin must come clean with Wisconsin voters and disclose the details of this questionable deal.”
Wisconsin Reporter’s Courtney Mullen contributed.


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