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Local Veterans Share Thoughts on Tomah Probe, Multiple Drug Prescriptions

Congress continues its investigation into the VA Medical Center in Tomah.

Staff there are accused of over-prescribing painkillers to some patients, leaving them listless. In one case, a man died of an overdose.

On Monday, Wisconsin U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson led a hearing on the charges.

WUWM wanted to hear local veterans’ opinions about the allegations. So we sat down with a few, at Vets Place Central on Milwaukee’s west side.

The men say they’re outraged over the allegations at the Tomah VA Center.

“It’s a shame that our veterans had to fight and come back home to another enemy,” says Army veteran Samuel Baker.

Fellow Army veteran Alan Hensley says he’s known a number of vets who’ve been treated with numerous prescriptions at one time, for a variety of conditions.

He wonders whether the handfuls of drugs have been helpful, or harmful. Hensley says for a period he was heavily drugged, while receiving treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

“They had me so medicated, I didn’t even know if I was coming or going,” Hensley says.

Hensley says eventually, he was assigned to a new doctor who phased him off multiple prescriptions.

“Ninety-percent of the medications they have me on, I was able to come off it. I’m functioning perfectly fine. I’m working on my masters, I’m working on my associates to get my state license to become an AODA counselor. After I came off all those medications, I’m fine now,” Hensley says.

Dennis Hatten, who served in the Marine Corps, has a slightly different take. He adds that patients must play a role in their care.

“It’s up to us as veterans. We have to take personal responsibility for our own health care, and when we are having have conversations with our health care providers we have to be specific and we have to inform them, because if you don’t communicate what’s wrong with you and what you need, then you could find yourself in a real bad situation,” Hatten says.

Hatten believes for some, the answer may lie in counseling, in addition to -- or instead of -- drugs. He says he once was prescribed numerous medications for mental health issues.

But Hatten says he’s taken great strides in managing his anxiety, through cognitive behavioral therapy. He says he’s also been able to reduce the number of prescriptions he takes.

Army vet Alan Hensley echoes Hatten’s endorsement of counseling as a means to treat mental health matters veterans may face.

“You need to deal with our vets by talking to them, find out exactly what’s going on. Deal with a specialist that knows how to deal with PTSD, who knows how to deal with these nightmares,” Hensley says.

Hensley fears VA centers around the country don’t have enough therapists trained to deal with such issues, causing some providers to lean too heavily on drugs for treatment. If that’s the case, Army veteran Samuel Baker says VA centers must hire more counselors. He’s certain federal officials can come up with the funding.

“Just like we had a situation with armor on our Humvees and we had to upgrade the armor, make this happen. Y’all did it for our Humvees, y’all can do it for us,” Baker says.

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