Patients, Staff At Tomah VA Call For Private Investigation Of Facility

Federal Government Is Currently Looking Into Alleged Over-Prescribing Of Narcotics At Medical Center

Maureen McCollum/WPR

A federal investigation into a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs medical center in Tomah is underway, but a group of patients and staff are calling for an independent agency to look into the facility.

The town hall meeting in Tomah was hosted by western Wisconsin lawmakers Reps. Nancy VanderMeer, Ken Skowronski, Lee Nerison, and staffer Justin Phillips. Maureen McCollum/WPR.

Veterans, widows, whistleblowers, and former Tomah VA staff listened and shared their thoughts at the hearing. Maureen McCollum/WPR.

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The VA is investigating claims that certain doctors were overprescribing heavy narcotics to some veterans and that the Tomah VA’s chief of staff created a culture of fear. At a town hall meeting in Tomah on Thursday, employees and patients called for an independent investigation, saying they don’t trust the process.

Whistleblower Ryan Honl is a combat veteran and former Tomah VA employee. He said the VA cannot investigate itself.

“It’s proven that for years,” he said. “Anybody who’s been an employee at the VA knows that that’s the case. To leave the fox in charge of the hen house, obviously that’s going to lead to one conclusion, and that’s, ‘There’s nothing to see here.’”

The Tomah VA’s current and former staff are also starting to speak more publicly about experiences at the facility. They say there are many caregivers dedicated to the patients, but also that a few bad apples forced doctors and pharmacists to quit or be fired if they questioned prescription practices.

“We have been so afraid of our jobs,” said Lin Ellinghuysen, a registered nurse at the Tomah VA and president of the worker’s union. “We weep at the deaths, but there’s very few that will put their job on the line. We are able now to get more and more people to do this, and the whistleblower numbers are growing.”

One death at the VA last year has been linked to an overdose. The VA’s initial findings are expected by the end of the month.