The former chief of staff of the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center has agreed to permanently surrender his license to practice medicine in Wisconsin, closing a two-year investigation into his narcotic prescription practices.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs already had fired David Houlihan after he was exposed as the “Candy Man” in a January 2015 investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting. We reported that veterans treated at the Tomah VA showed up to appointments stoned on painkillers and muscle relaxants, dozed off and drooled during therapy sessions, and burned themselves with cigarettes.
One of Houlihan’s patients, 35-year-old Marine Corps veteran Jason Simcakoski, died of an overdose inside the hospital’s psychiatric ward in 2014.
Following his dismissal from the VA, Houlihan opened a private practice in La Crosse.
In its investigation, the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services found that Houlihan “failed to provide appropriate medical care to at least 22 patients” between 2005 and 2014. Government investigators found, among other things, that he “routinely prescribed opioids in direct contradiction of written recommendations by other, more qualified providers.” They also documented eight cases in which Houlihan abused his authority.
The agreement brings to a close one of the last lingering threads from the controversy that erupted following Reveal’s report. The hospital’s leadership team has been replaced, and nationwide, the number of narcotics prescribed by VA doctors has plunged.
In July, President Barack Obama signed into law a sweeping narcotics reform named for Simcakoski. It fundamentally changes the way the VA dispenses and monitors dangerous and addictive opiates.