Baldwin, Vukmir attack each other over care for veterans and cancer patients

MILWAUKEE -- In a close race, Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Republican rival Leah Vukmir are attacking each other over their care for military veterans and cancer patients.

During a roundtable with Vukmir on Monday, Sept. 10, several Wisconsin veterans shared war stories and horror stories about trying to get medical care at VA hospitals. Meanwhile, Baldwin's campaign launched a TV ad criticizing Vukmir for voting against legislation requiring insurance companies to cover a cancer treatment.

At Vukmir's event, the veterans said they were looking to the candidate -- whose son is a U.S. Army ranger -- to push changes that would allow them to more easily get private medical care.

"I'm thrilled we have the opportunity to send someone to go fight these fights, who has actual skin in the game," said Sam Rogers, an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan and is now a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee student.

"You have my commitment. Don't worry about that," Vukmir told them.

During the nearly 90-minute discussion, Vukmir never mentioned Baldwin. But while talking with reporters afterward, Vukmir slammed Baldwin's handling of the opioid prescribing scandal at the Tomah VA.

"To be the only person on this Congressional delegation to have known that a doctor was over-prescribing opioids, a veteran died, and many others became addicted -- to me, it's unconscionable," Vukmir said.

Republicans have said Baldwin should have responded more urgently to a whistleblower's concerns about opioid overprescribing. Baldwin fired a staffer in 2015 over the matter.

Baldwin's campaign responded by emailing a statement from a veteran who supports Baldwin.

"Veterans face some of the most complex challenges at the V.A. and Tammy Baldwin is working on solutions to do right by them and their families," said Curtis Schmitt, a U.S. Army veteran.

Schmitt pointed to Baldwin's efforts to pass more opioid controls in the VA, a change that became law in 2016. The legislation was named for Jason Simcakoski, the veteran who died in Tomah.

Tomah VA Medical Center

Meanwhile, Baldwin's campaign ad attacks Vukmir for voting against a bill that forced insurance companies to cover oral chemotherapy. The requirement eventually became law with the support of other Republicans and Gov. Scott Walker.

Kristen Jome-Robley, a cancer survivor from Manitowoc, says in the ad that she needed oral chemotherapy for a brain tumor.

"(Vukmir) was just about the only legislator who stood with the insurance companies instead the people," Jome-Robley says in the ad. "Leah Vukmir, you ought to be ashamed."

Vukmir, a nurse, said the assertion that she didn't care about cancer patients was "ludicrous."

"This is nothing more than an attempt for Tammy Baldwin to attack me as a way to distract from her own problems at the Tomah VA," Vukmir told reporters Monday.

Last month's Marquette University Law School Poll showed Vukmir and Baldwin were in a dead heat.