Staff at the Tomah VA is accused of over-prescribing painkillers and retaliating against people who blew the whistle. Before federal leaders decided to act, a 35-year-old marine died of an overdose there, last year.
Federal officials acknowledge that problems likely extend beyond Tomah. Carolyn Clancy, Interim Under Secretary for Health for the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs, recently told the Senate Veterans Committee that the number of veterans who suffer from chronic pain appears daunting. She put the rate, among those returning from service in the Middle East, at 60 percent.
“Many of our veterans have survived severe battlefield injuries, some repeated, resulting in life-long moderate to severe pain related to muscular-skeletal and permanent nerve damage. This can impact not only their physical abilities but also their emotional health and brain structures,” Clancy said.
When a person suffers from two or more disorders or illnesses, they’re known as co-morbid conditions. Those patients can be particularly at risk for developing addictions to painkillers, because treatment is complex. Clancy says it has to blend care for both the physical and emotional pain and, too often, the narcotics prescribed, have included opioids. They’re known for their addictive nature.