Wisconsin VA uses alternate therapies to reduce opioid use

TOMAH— A Veterans Affairs hospital in Wisconsin is using nontraditional therapies for pain and mental health as officials seek to address problems with over-prescribing medication at the facility.

The Tomah VA Medical Center is one of 18 veterans hospitals across the country launching the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' Whole Health program, Wisconsin Public Radio reported .

"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.

Whole Health coaches help VA patients set personal health and wellness goals, address chronic pain, prevent illness or injury and treat mental health needs. The program also uses alternative therapies like tai chi, acupuncture and Healing Touch, which focuses on restoring a person's energy field.

"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," Brahm said.

The initiative comes four years after a veteran died at the facility from a mixture of prescribed drugs. Federal investigations found that some staffers were over-prescribing drugs.

"We will never eradicate the need for opioids, but I think by combining it with the nontraditional therapy and taking the whole look at the veteran and veterans' needs, we will be able to manage pain and still let the veterans have a quality of life that they need," Brahm said.

Adam Flood, a La Crosse County Veterans Service officer, said he's heard positive feedback about the initiative from some local veterans.

"It's just providing new alternatives that a lot of veterans are starting to be interested in," he said.