Tomah VA town hall brings out both sides of allegations

Veterans and their families had a chance to speak out Thursday night about problems at the VA in Tomah.

The VA held its quarterly town hall meeting with leadership at the medical center focused on the allegations of over-prescribing painkillers and a hostile work environment.

The meeting was only about half full, but the VA said it was a much larger crowd than usual for this type of meeting.

About 20 people took their turn to either talk about their concerns with care and practices at the Tomah VA or to thank the VA for everything it’s doing.

If the 100 or so people at the town hall at the Tomah VA most of the veterans spoke positively of the care they received at the VA.

However, one women who doesn’t feel the same is Carole Pederson-Waters.

“I’m not proud of the VA anymore,” Pederson-Waters said.

Pederson-Waters claims her father died because of neglect by staff while he was a full-time patient at the VA from 2003 to 2009.

“I was so hurt because I had so much respect for the VA,” Pederson-Waters said.

She said VA staff cancelled physical therapy appointments for her father and took meals away from him before he was finished eating, causing him to grow incredibly weak.

“That’s where he said, ‘They’re putting me down,’ and I said I didn’t want to hear that from my dad,” Pederson-Waters said.

A veteran who has also seen change in patient care is Ryan Van De Walker. He was a patient of the man at the center of allegations of over prescribing opiates and a hostile work environment, Dr. David Houlihan.

“They really been beneficial to a lot of veterans and I think that the negative press has not just hampered the VA’s ability to serve veterans, but has definitely hampered their ability to continue forward with working here,” Van De Walker said.

Van De Walker said when he started at the VA he was bounced around from doctor to doctor. It wasn’t until Houlihan and his team finally stepped in and took care of him that he felt comfortable coming to the VA. Now the team he has built a relationship with over the past two-and-a-half years is gone, and he wants them back.

“I have new doctors, new patient care and I have to learn how to interact with them and it really has affected me, I don’t even want to come to the VA because I don’t know the people I’m seeing anymore,” Van De Walker said.

Now that everyone has had a chance to speak their mind, both Pederson-Waters and Van De Walker said it’s up to VA leadership to start making changes.

“We took note of the criticism, we took names and phone numbers for patients we need to follow up with,” said Stephanie McCrobie, public affairs officer with the Tomah VA.

Some of the other concerns brought up was the lack of female doctors at the facility for female veterans, the need for more time with doctors during group therapy for conditions such as PTSD and the need for a swimming pool at the facility.

Many veterans stood up asking for a swimming pool saying their pain was much more manageable with aquatic therapy.

There are currently three investigations on-going into the allegations at the Tomah VA. There is no timeline for those to be completed, but the VA medical director said when they’re finished all results will be shared with the public.