VA Secretary: 'Changes started at Tomah VA are spreading nationwide'

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TOMAH, Wis. (WSAW) -- On Tuesday, Senator Tammy Baldwin along with the Simcakoski family joined Veteran Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie to showcase reforms made at the V.A.

The Tomah V.A. is at the center of change for Veteran Affairs centers across the country. It's a shift from a past shadowed by scandal.

Three years ago an investigation revealed the Tomah V.A. Chief of Staff was over prescribing opioids. Ultimately top officials were ousted and major reforms were called for.

"This facility has quite a story to tell and at the heart of that story are Linda and Marvin Simkowski who turned a family tragedy into hope," explained Senator Tammy Baldwin.

Marvin and Linda Simcakoski experienced the problems the V.A. had first hand when their son died in 2014 of an overdose at the Tomah V.A. "We want to give them first an alternative in their healthcare and then worry about their medications. We're trying to change the thought process here. This is a flagship facility," said Marvin Simcakoski.

Some of the changes include doctors prescribing over-the-counter pain medicines and pushing alternative therapies like acupuncture or music therapy.

Secretary Wilkie says he has presented the largest budget the V.A. has ever seen at $220 billion. "Of that $220 billion, $9 billion is set aside just for mental health and we have another $2 billion in there for opioid addiction programs and $250 million for suicide awareness."

Wilkie adds while the V.A. has come a long way in this culture shift to treat pain, the shift is continuing to evolve as they work to implement this at every V.A. center.