Area veterans feel 'blindsided' by latest Tomah VA scandal

WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) -- Maryln Woodward is a Vietnam veteran. Since 2004, he's been receiving care and treatment through the Tomah Veteran Affairs Medical Center.

Nicole Meserole is a veteran who served in Afghanistan. She too received care from the Tomah VA.

While both veterans served in different eras, they had the same reaction towards the announcement from the VA that a dentist at the facility was not cleaning instruments up to VA cleaning standards.

Now, 592 veterans are at risk of serious diseases.

"We are testing for Hepatitis B, Hepatitus C and HIV," explained the acting Tomah VA medical center director, Victoria Brahm on Tuesday.

Woodward and Meserole learned about the recent scandal through watching the news.

"My boyfriend who's never been in the military knew more about what was going on than I did, and that's a clinic that I go to," said Meserole.

Fifty-four of the 592 veterans received a phone call before Tuesday's press conference.

"Wanted to make sure that we touched base with those 54 veterans, because they had the most severe procedures undertaken with that dentist," explained Matthew Gowan, a Tomah VA spokesperson.

Gowan said those procedures included bridge and crown work.

He added that letters were sent out Tuesday, to touch base with the remaining 538 veterans at risk.

"You don't send letters. It's a phone call. It's a personal thing," said Meserole.

It's personal for both veterans who said they have family to worry about too.

"My family's calling me," said Woodward. "I'm scared to touch my grandkids."

Meserole has a 3-year-old son.

"I want to be able to hold my son and not have to worry about possibly infecting him, or that we had Thanksgiving and I made pies for everybody," she said.

Still, the Tomah VA claims there is a low risk for infection in all 592 cases.

"I don't see how you can take over 500 people and figure out which ones have a higher risk just because maybe they had a different procedure," said Meserole. "But I could have had ulcers in my mouth, and those are open sores."

Woodward echoed that concern.

"You tell me they can't notify us, how do I know I'm not at the high risk . Did they show you the document or show you the letter they sent out? No. They want to make me happy, they should have let me know before it," he said.

Woodward and Meserole said they both suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, and said the unknown effects of this incident effects them even more so with added anxiety and depression.

Both added they expect more from a facility that's job is to keep them safe.

The incident was reported Oct. 20. An investigation began Oct. 21.

The dentist who performed care on the 592 veterans is on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation. The dentist's name is not being released at this time.

For now, veterans are being urged to make an appointment for free screenings to test for Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV.

Veterans that have questions may call a free 24/7 hotline at 888- 598-7793.