‘Take responsibility’: Tomah parents demand VA accountability after son’s death

Army veteran dies after mismanaged care at Tomah VA according to OIG report; parents demand answers

TOMAH, Wis. (WKBT) – A Tomah family demanded answers after their son died after receiving care at the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center. A report reveals VA medical staff made mistakes that contributed to their son’s death.

“We love him. Miss him and we want to honor him,” said Jane Meeusen, the mother of Nicholas Meeusen.

Inside Jane and Craig Meeusen’s home, time stands still.

“We’re proud of what he did,” said Craig Meeusen, Nicholas Meeusen’s father.

A few years have passed, but clouds still hang over their roof.

“Someone told me they never come back the same,” Jane Meeusen said. “And he didn’t.

A conversation no parent should ever have. Looking back at their child’s life that, was.

“Nick, yeah, we miss him,” Jane Meeusen said. “My son Nick. He had a good sense of humor. He was tall. He was a big guy.”

Nicholas Meeusen served in Iraq, but his death happened on his home soil.

Nick’s time in Iraq from 2006 to 2007 took a big piece from him. Nick suffered from deployment-related PTSD and traumatic brain injuries.

“He had a Humvee blowup from underneath him with an IED (improvised explosive device),” Craig Meeusen said.

When he returned from his deployment, Nick sought help from the Tomah VA and turned to alcohol. At one point Nick was drinking half a liter of Vodka a day.

In the spring of 2019, a completely sober Nick drove himself to the VA. He thought he was having a seizure. It was the last time Nick would walk or talk on his own.

“Less than a day later he left in a comma,” Craig Meeusen said.

Doctors took Nick to two other healthcare facilities including Gundersen in La Crosse and the VA in Madison. Nick died one month after he walked through the Tomah VA’s doors.

Craig and Jane’s minds flooded with questions. They asked Rep. Ron Kind’s office to look into their son’s death. The VA office of inspector general released a report. The report reveals Nick’s doctors and nurses mismanaged his care. His parents say they made too many mistakes.

“For 20 minutes Nick was without oxygen,” Jane Meeusen said.

The report found – among other things – Tomah VA doctors did not prescribe Meeusen adequate medication, and that nursing staff failed to complete all the required assessments.

“It brings back a lot of memories,” Craig Meeusen said. “Very tough to read,” Jane Meeusen said.

The report also shows staff restrained Meeusen without proper training. Craig and Jane’s frustration boiled over with the lack of communication from Nick’s doctors and nurses.

“We didn’t hear anything from the Tomah VA, not a follow-up, not a call from his doctors, not asking how he’s doing, nothing,” Craig Meeusen said. “I mean not a word.”

He said they didn’t hear from the VA until they received the bill for Nick’s treatment. Karen Long, Tomah VA Medical Center Director, acknowledged the report’s recommendations for improvements but argues since the report didn’t address all of his care it’s inconclusive.

The Tomah VA’s statement reads, “The Tomah VA staff and I extend our sincere condolences to the family of this Veteran and take this loss personally. While the April 2019 incident doesn’t represent the quality health care our Tomah VA Medical Center professionals provide daily, the OIG team did find opportunities and provided recommendations. We take these recommendations seriously and have already implemented process improvements.

“It’s important to note that the OIG report did not address the Veteran’s entire course of care. Without a comprehensive review, attributing the Veteran’s clinical deterioration to Tomah VAMC is inconclusive. Again, we offer our condolences and remain fully committed to implementing the recommendations and will diligently pursue all measures to ensure safe, high-quality care for the Veterans that we serve.”

Democratic Rep. Ron Kind responded to News 8 Now’s request for comment. His statement said, “First and foremost, I want to express my condolences to the family of the veteran. This was a tragic loss. I requested this investigation in order to ensure transparency as we work to provide our veterans with the best care possible, and I appreciate the Inspector General’s thoroughness and attention to this matter.

“I’ll be following up with the Tomah VA Medical Center and closely monitoring to make sure the recommendations made in the report are implemented.”

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson told News 8 Now, “I send my deepest condolences to the family of Nicholas Meeusen for their loss. My goal has always been to bring accountability and transparency to the VA and the VA Office of Inspector General, ensuring that the finest among us receive the high-quality care they deserve.

“I will be following up with hospital leadership to further understand what happened and to discuss how improvements could be made to prevent additional tragedies in the future.”

Nick’s parents are demanding accountability for the Tomah VA.

“They know what happened,” Craig Meeusen said. “Take responsibility,” Jane Meeusen said.

Jane and Craig are thankful for the care Nick received in La Crosse and Madison. They want the Tomah VA to do more so this doesn’t happen to someone else’s loved one.

“If he would have went somewhere else, he’d probably still be alive,” Craig Meeusen said.

The report brings some comfort to their family. Jane still finds Nick’s things around the house, including a letter Nick wrote to her for mothers day one year.

“I’m grateful for you being my mother,” Jane Meeusen read. “You are no. 1. You’re the best mom ever. I’m glad you’re my mom love, Nicholas.”

The title of the OIG report reads “Mismanagement of a Patient at the Tomah VA Medical Center.” That veteran is Nicholas Meeusen,

“This put a name to it. His name was Nicholas Meeusen,” Craig Meeusen said.  “Yeah, our son,” Jane Meeusen said.

Nick’s memory lives in the words his platoon leader wrote to his parents.

“It says, ‘Dear Craig and Jane, my name is 2nd Lt. Arthur Athens,” Jane Meeusen read.” I just wanted to write you and tell you how proud and honored I am to serve with your son. Nick is an extremely hard worker and his fellow soldiers respect him a lot. Your son is an American hero and you should be very proud.”

Words and memories will help heal the Meeusen family while never forgetting the ultimate sacrifice he paid far from the battlefield.

“He had a soft heart. He did.” Jane Craig said. “He’s forever in our heart.”

Jane said she forgives the VA but wants them to admit wrong by Nick. News 8 Now contacted the Tomah VA again after we spoke with Nick’s parents. They declined our request for further comment.