A group associated with billionaire conservative donors Charles and David Koch is putting $1.6 million behind two advertisements attacking Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D) for her handling of the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center scandal.
Concerned Veterans for America will run ads in Wisconsin highlighting Baldwin’s handling of an opioid over-prescription crisis at the Veterans Affairs center in Tomah.
One of the ads is a first-person testimony from a man identified only as Mark, who said that he worked at the Tomah VA as a nurse but was also treated there as a Veteran.
“They kept giving me meds and at one point I was on seven different medicines,” he says in the ad. “Their idea of treating the Vets is to throw more pills at them. The Tomah VA were enabling these guys to become addicts. We know for a fact that Tammy Baldwin had these reports that show these things were going on. Tammy Baldwin had all that information and did nothing with it. Vets were dying, Vets were committing suicide. It was heartbreaking to see that. I want an answer.”
The second ad features Mark’s wife Jean, talking about what the over-prescribed opioids meant for her family.
“The Tomah VA almost cost us my kids' father, my husband,” Jean says in the ad. “They almost cost him his life. The report was handed to Tammy Baldwin and she knew what was going on for months and she sat on it. The Vets paid the price, the families paid the price. The Tomah VA and Tammy Baldwin let us down.”
Baldwin has been under scrutiny for her handling of the matter since reports first emerged in 2015 that her office had received a report about over-prescriptions at the VA. Baldwin waited for several months before calling for an investigation.
The controversy arose after a Marine named Jason Simcakoski died on Aug. 30, 2014, after being treated at the Tomah VA. A day earlier, Baldwin’s office received a report documenting over-prescriptions there but she did not call for an investigation until January, when a the Center for Investigative Reporting detailed how Simcakoski had died.
Baldwin’s allies note that she had written letters to the VA early in 2014 urging them to address over-prescriptions and that she went on to author "Jason's Law" in partnership with Simcakoski’s family.
Baldwin fired one of her top staffers after the incident and acknowledged that her office could have done more. The ex-staffer subsequently filed an ethics complaint in which she accused the senator of a cover-up, but that complaint was later dismissed by a Senate ethics panel.
Baldwin is a top target for Republicans as she seeks reelection in a state that President Trump carried narrowly in 2016. Marine Corps Veteran Kevin Nicholson and state Sen. Leah Vukmir are battling it out for the GOP nomination and the right to take Baldwin on in November.