Health

VA Dentist May Have Exposed Hundreds Of Veterans To HIV

| by Michael Howard

Nearly 600 veterans in Wisconsin that received care from a certain dentist may have been exposed to HIV or hepatitis, according to the Tomah VA medical center.

The VA is encouraging 592 veterans to come to the center for free testing, the Daily Caller reports. Any that test positive for either disease will receive free medical care.

Tomah VA medical center director Victoria Brahm said the risk of infection comes from the fact that the dentist in question used -- and reused -- his own equipment when treating the veterans.

"It was purposeful that he was violating VA regulations," Brahm explained. "During all of the orientation, he used all of our equipment. He used it appropriately, so it was very purposeful from what we found in our investigation that he knew exactly what he was doing, and preferred to use his own equipment against procedure."

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The dentist, who has not been identified, ran his practice this way from Oct. 2015 to Oct. 2016, when an assistant notified the VA of his conduct.

Nicole Meserole, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan and one of the patients thought to be at risk of infection, told WSAW she found out about the scandal while 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," she said.

Now Meserole has to worry about whether her 3-year-old son is at risk.

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"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 told WSAW.

Reassurance from the VA that the chances of infection are low does little to ease Meserole's anxiety.

"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," she said. "But I could have had ulcers in my mouth, and those are open sores."

Marlyn Woodward is a Vietnam veteran. He too is unconvinced by the VA's efforts to downplay the incident.

"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.

The dentist has not been fired, but has instead been reassigned to an administrative position. However, he may face criminal charges if the inspector general decides such charges are justified.

In 2015, Mario DeSanctis, the director of the Tomah VA medical center, was fired after it was revealed that the facility was overprescribing opioids to veterans, according to The Daily Caller.

Sources: The Daily Caller, WSAW / Photo credit: Thoma Journal via La Crosse Tribune

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