Coon Valley fallen veteran part of Tomah VA investigation - WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

Coon Valley fallen veteran part of Tomah VA investigation

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A Coon Valley Army veteran is one of the three individuals at the center of Senator Tammy Baldwin's call for a criminal investigation into the Tomah VA.

Jacob Ward was 27-years-old when he died of an accidental heroin and cocaine overdose on Sept. 4, 2013.

Ward served a tour in Iraq in 2004 when he was 18. His father John Ward said Jacob when returned, something wasn't right.

"He was a very angry boy, he felt guilty about things," he said. "He was angry at the whole world and one thing lead to another, a lot of legal issues, and then finally my opinion was if this kid saw combat he should get a chance at the VA for help."

Ward said his son participated in several treatment programs at the Tomah VA in 2007, but with little success.

"They gave him medications, which my wife and I questioned because he was having self medication issues anyway," Ward said. "Why would you give a kid that type of medication? I trusted the VA knew what they were doing and I knew very little about PTSD at that time."

Ward's parents say at the time, their son was one of the first Iraq veterans to receive treatment at the Tomah VA, something they say was to their son's disadvantage.

"I truly believe they didn't know how to treat young Iraq veterans," Lorraine Ward, Jacob's mother, said. "He was the first of many and they didn't know what to do."

She said her son was unrecognizable when she and John went to visit Jacob while in the Tomah VA.

"He was totally a zombie," she said. "He was in la-la land, he didn't even know who we were. It was very sad."

Ward, a nurse herself, does not agree with the amount of medication the VA prescribed her son.

"You do not give them that many medications together. "You need to be able to function at therapy and group functions and you can't do that when you can't keep your eyes open," she said.

In 2008, they transferred Jacob to the Milwaukee VA.

"Their treatment program for these kids was to get them off all medications-completely different philosophy-and he ended up with all the Iraq and Afghanistan vets from Wisconsin were going there."

Both Lorraine and John Ward said they do not blame the Tomah VA for their son's death.

"I think the problem is no one knows how to treat PTSD," John Ward said. "It's as different as the individual personalities and what works for some of the other vets to calm them down, maybe isn't the right treatment for these young ones. Who knows?"

To help him cope with the loss of his son, John Ward recorded an album titled "The Other War," with songs written and performed by himself and friends.

"I want to continue to work with any VA hospitals that will have me," he said. "If I can work in the music therapy or art departments and just save one kid, then Jacob's death will have more meaning and be less of a statistic."

"The Other War" is available for purchase at Ace of La Crosse, Thirsty Turtle, Stockyard Bar and Grill, Viroqua VFW and Viroqua American Legion.

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