MILWAUKEE — U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson says he wants answers from Veterans Affairs after a Wisconsin veteran killed himself after he was reportedly turned away from the troubled VA facility in Tomah this summer.
Johnson on Friday sent a letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald, asking for all documents about 29-year-old Brian Rossell of Wausau, whose body was found Thursday in Lake Wausau after he went missing earlier in the week. Rossell’s mother says her son, a U.S. Army veteran, had sought help from the Tomah VA during the summer and was turned away.
Police said Rossell suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, paranoia and schizoaffective disorder, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (http://bit.ly/2c9mZbW ) reported.
In his letter to McDonald, Johnson asked for the agency to “produce all documents and communications referring or relating to Mr. Rossell. In addition, I request that VA employees provide a staff-level briefing about the circumstances leading up to this tragedy.”
Johnson chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. In his letter, the Oshkosh Republican said Rossell’s apparent suicide “underscores concerns that the VA has yet to take full ownership of the systemic failures of the Tomah” facility.
The Tomah facility was dubbed “Candy Land” by some veterans for its prescribing practices. Jason Simcakoski, a 35-year-old Marine veteran, died from “mixed drug toxicity” at Tomah in 2014. Earlier this year, the VA acknowledged failures at the Tomah facility and said it was working to prevent similar problems in the future.
The VA did not immediately respond to requests from The Associated Press for comment Saturday.
On Thursday, Johnson wrote to VA Inspector General Michael Missal asking him to open a new inquiry into the Tomah facility. Citing information received from a whistleblower last month, Johnson said the facility’s mental health clinic “suffers from a shortage of providers despite an increase in veterans seeking treatment at the clinic.”
A representative said Missal is reviewing that letter and will respond directly to Johnson.
“What’s such a paradox in this is when you go visit the facilities, you walk the halls and veterans come up to you and they’re just ‘thank you for the service, I’m getting great care.’ And yet we have these tragedies,” Johnson said in an interview.
Wisconsin’s other senator, Democrat Tammy Baldwin, said Friday she has sent a letter to the VA inspector general asking him to “pursue an appropriate and transparent review” of Rossell’s treatment.
“I think in light of the public attention that has been drawn to the type of services that our veterans get, that they have earned and deserved, transparency is always important,” Baldwin said.
Information from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, http://www.jsonline.com