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The former chief of staff at the much-scrutinized Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center, who was nicknamed “candy man” by some patients for his free-wheeling prescription of narcotics, was notified Friday that he would be fired.

David Houlihan was placed on leave in January while the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs investigated allegations of overprescribing narcotic pain medications and retaliatory behavior at the Tomah facility.

The VA told Wisconsin’s congressional delegation that based on results of an investigation, Houlihan was notified Friday that he would be fired effective Nov. 9. Houlihan, who is a psychiatrist, also had his clinical privileges revoked.

“After extensive and fair investigation, the VA has formally removed Dr. Houlihan from their employment,” said U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse. “This is an important step in moving forward at the Tomah VA and ensuring our veterans receive the care they earned and deserve.”

The decision to fire Houlihan came after the VA investigated his clinical practice as well as his “administrative interactions with subordinates and alleged retaliatory behavior,” said the statement from the VA telling lawmakers of the firing.

Houlihan is the second top official at the hospital to be fired after the investigation into practices there. The center’s director, Mario DeSanctis, was fired in September.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin said in a statement that the firings were long overdue and provide “new found hope that we can restore the sacred trust we have with those who faithfully serve our country.”

In August, the VA’s inspector general said deficiencies in care led to the mixed drug toxicity death last year of Jason Simcakoski, a 35-year-old Marine Corps veteran from Stevens Point. The investigation found that psychiatrists did not discuss with him or his family the hazards of a synthetic opiate he was prescribed, acted too slowly when he was found unresponsive, and did not have anti-overdose medicine on hand. One physician who attended to him was fired.

A VA report earlier this year concluded that patients at Tomah facility were more likely than patients at other VA hospitals to receive high doses of pain killers. The report also said there was an atmosphere of fear among staff members that affected patient care.

The VA report said the Tomah facility was dubbed “Candy Land” by some veterans for the reportedly liberal prescribing practices under Houlihan, who patients called the “Candy Man.”

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson issued a statement saying he hopes Houlihan’s removal brings closure for people who received sub-standard care.

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(2) comments


The VA Way
I worked 5 years at the Tomah VA as a Mental Health Nurse.
One of the first things I heard was warning from staff about Dr Houlihan. I found an environment of treating Veterans as cattle to
make work easier. I was told of the "VA way". The VA way is covering up what you do and not taking responsibility for your actions, blaming and scapegoating! I never heard anyone call Dr Houlihan "Candy Man".
I was a Case Manager for many of Dr Houlihan's Veterans. He took most of the harder cases and most were dual diagnosis
(Mental illness and Chemical Dependency).
Many were addicted to narcotics before coming to the VA for treatment. I attended many Veterans apts with Dr Houlihan. I witnessed Veteran's pounding his desk and Dr Houlihan calmly saying "no".
Dr Houlihan has been scapegoated because he was an advocate for Veterans and he expected staff to do there jobs! I joined the VA as an outsider and did not know this "VA way." Dr Houlihan was scapegoated!


How ironic, Baldwin saying something is "long overdue". Pot, meet kettle.

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