State, VA focus on fighting opioid abuse among veterans

Published: Jun. 19, 2018 at 4:31 PM CDT
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The VA and Department of Justice are working together to help veterans who are addicted to opioids and prevent others from getting hooked.

It's the newest phase of Wisconsin's Dose of Reality campaign. Leaders gathered at the VA Clinic in Green Bay to discuss their goals.

The DOJ says veterans are twice as likely as non-vets of dying from a drug overdose. This is attributed to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other issues tied to their service.

Marine Ryan Shogren was badly injured by an enemy mortar in Iraq 14 years ago.

"I had eight surgeries to my leg and four to my face," said Shogren, eastern field operations director, WI DOJ, DCI. "All these teeth are implants through the side."

He refused to take opioids.

"Being a police officer for a local jurisdiction in southeast Wisconsin prior to my deployment, I saw the impact that opioid abuse can have," Shogren says. "I didn't want to bring that issue home to my family."

Shogren now works for the Department of Justice. His background and experience make him the right person to encourage other veterans to seek help and get educated.

He joined lawmakers, doctors, VA officials and the state attorney general in announcing veteran-focused resources.

"This is a critical expansion of our campaign, to address directly our members of the service and help eliminate the stigma," said Brad Schimel, Wisconsin Attorney General.

Signs will go up around the community and in VA clinics.

Online resources will encourage veterans to stay informed and seek help.

VA Justice Outreach Coordinator Michelle Watts will use the resources when she visits vets in jail or treatment courts.

"We have an image of what a drug user looks like, so sometimes people feel like they can't get help or they shouldn't get help, so this will help us on every level," Watts said.

The VA is pushing alternative treatments like acupuncture, yoga or physical therapy. The agency says comparing 2018 to 2013, 2300 fewer patients have been prescribed opioids at the Milwaukee VA.

"What this will do, we hope, is that we'll get more veterans to come seek the care," says Dr. Michael Erdmann, Milwaukee VAMC Chief of Staff.