New 30-day plan works to move Tomah VA forward

Plan focuses on employees, accountability and transparency

A new 30-day plan works to move the Tomah VA Medical Center forward.

After allegations of overprescribing medication and a retaliatory work environment, the acting director wants the staff, veterans and public to know progress is being made when it comes to accountability and transparency.

The plan involves rebuilding from within. That’s the message John Rohrer, the acting director of the medical center, gave when talking about the plan. He said if you want something to change, you have to start inside the walls of the Tomah VA. That’s why the 30-day plan focuses on the employees, who in turn will provide even better care for the veterans.

The Tomah VA facility employs about 1,200 people, who provide health care to more than 26,000 veterans throughout the area.

“The employees are what of course make this place function,” said Rohrer.

But in recent months, some employees have spoken out about their work environment.

“People were saying there was a culture and fear of retaliation,” said Rohrer.

When asked about how open and honest the employees have been, Rohrer said employees have been very open with him.

“They have been absolutely great, they have told me how they have been feeling,” said Rohrer. “Probably the main issue was communication. Accountability is a big issue, so they are looking for their management to be held accountable and for their co-workers to be held accountable.”

To address the issues, Rohrer created the 30-day plan.

“It’s one thing to go out and have staff tell you these are our concerns. It’s another thing to show you’ve done something with those concerns, and that is what we are trying to do moving forward,” said Rohrer.

The plan includes employee listening sessions, pain-management seminars, leadership and ethics training as well as improving staff morale.

“It’s employee-based because the employees make the facility and if you have your employees happy to come to work, you are going to provide better quality care to the veterans,” said Rohrer.

To make sure everyone is on the same page, Rohrer did talk to state lawmakers about the plan.

“I think it’s an important step in the right direction — more staff engagement, a more collaborative approach, more feedback from everyone involved in the care and treatment of our veterans. We all need to be sharing in the same goal and that’s enhancing the care and quality treatment that our veterans need and deserve, and I think this 30-day plan takes us in the right direction,” said Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wisconsin.

However, some don’t believe it’s enough.

“It’s a very bureaucratic plan. It’s better than nothing but just barely. There’s still so many unanswered questions and we still haven’t held people accountable. In the end, if you are going to reform and improve a bureaucracy, people have to realize they are going to be held accountable if they do bad things,” said U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin.

“These are positive administrative steps going forward but there are ongoing investigations and the unfinished business of holding people accountable for the problems at the Tomah VA. There is still a lot of work to do and I expect more from the VA to make sure the problems and tragedies at the Tomah VA never happen again,” said U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin.

Although the 30-day plan is directed at employees, Rohrer said he also wants the veterans, as well as the public, to know changes are being made.

“I would like them to see we are building here with the trust of our employees and they (veterans) can trust us when they are coming in here that they are getting the best care anywhere, which they deserve for the service they’ve provided,” said Rohrer.

After the 30-day plan is over, Rohrer said management and employees will regroup and give feedback about the plan. From there, Rohrer said new goals will be created and they will continue moving forward.

Rohrer said the 30-day plan is a way to show there is work being done and it also allows the public to hold them accountable.

If you would like to take a closer look at the 30-day plan, go to