Starting in October, the Tomah VA Medical Center will be smoke-free

TOMAH, Wis. (WEAU)-- Changes are coming to the Tomah VA Medical Center in October, when the campus is set to become smoke-free. The medical center provides care to more than 26 thousand veterans in Wisconsin and Minnesota each year.

"Most people are very excited about this," said Dr. Gregg Meekins, Chief of Staff at the center. "This is a major step for the VA. Most private community health maintenance organizations are already smoke free. So, this gets us into the community standard."

The new smoke-free policy isn't exclusive to Tomah, but happening nationwide at all 154 VA medical centers. The ban is a result of new changes in D.C.

"The new secretary of the VA felt this was a good time as well as the executive in charge. And there's also been a push, there's been legislative that's been pushed in Washington D.C. to also codify into law a smoke free environment in VA facilities," Meekins said.

Patients are not the only ones who will need to comply with the policy, but also employees, visitors, and vendors.

For many at the medical center, this new policy goes hand-in-hand with what they're all about.

"We are a health maintenance organization, we are actually the largest HMO in the country. Nine million veterans receive their care in the VA system, so this is a great thing for our veterans. It's also a very healthy thing for our employees."

As a doctor, Meekins is fully aware of the damage smoking can cause and is happy for the health benefits the policy could bring.

"I think this is going to be a good thing for my patients. We know that smoking is very detrimental for cardiovascular health and it also is a risk factor for strokes, so as a neurologist, I am very excited about this," Meekins said.

The policy will officially take effect October 1, and the VA does offer a number of programs to help veterans quit smoking.