Published by Wisconsin Public Radio

The Tomah VA Medical Center is using nontraditional therapies for pain and mental health as they continue to address former problems with over-prescribing medication at the facility.

Tomah is one of 18 veterans hospitals across the country launching the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Whole Health program.

“We’re trying to really change the environment to be one of looking at the entire veteran: what the veteran wants in their lives and what’s important to them,” said Victoria Brahm, director of the Tomah VA.

The initiative comes almost four years after a veteran died at the facility from a mixture of drugs prescribed by VA doctors. Federal investigations following the incident found some staff were over-prescribing drugs at the facility, with patients referring to the medical center as “Candy Land.”

Brahm said the Whole Health initiative shows the progress the Tomah VA has made on improving practices.

“Even though we went through a rough time, we’ve turned this around and really focused on how can we do things the best way that we can,” Brahm said. “We sat back a couple of years ago and said, ‘Where are the gaps in service that veterans need and what value do we bring to this community and to the veterans at large?’ And we’ve determined that with some of the services and the experts that we have, we have something to offer here.”

Tomah VA patients can meet with a Whole Health coach to set personal health and wellness goals, addressing chronic pain, prevention of illness or injury, and mental health needs.