U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin
Press Release

Baldwin, Capito Introduce Bipartisan VA Reform Legislation

Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act would provide VA with the tools it needs to address the problem of overprescribing practices and providing safer and more effective pain management services to our nation’s veterans

By - Jun 22nd, 2015 01:27 pm

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) introduced the Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act, bipartisan VA reform legislation aimed at providing safer and more effective pain management services to our nation’s veterans. Senators Baldwin and Capito were joined in introduction by the Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Patty Murray (D-WA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Jon Tester (D-MT).

“The VA’s overreliance on opioids has resulted in getting our veterans hooked instead of getting them the help they deserve, and I am proud to be joined by Senator Capito today to officially introduce the bipartisan Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act to improve quality pain management for veterans and their families,” said Senator Baldwin. “Our bipartisan bill will take steps to give veterans and their families a stronger voice in their care by strengthening opioid prescribing guidelines; improving coordination and communication throughout the VA; and putting in place stronger oversight and accountability for the quality of care we are providing our veterans. Our goal is to put these bipartisan reforms in place to prevent tragedies from occurring to other veterans and their families.”

“Too many of our nation’s veterans have returned from overseas only to fight another battle here at home. Tragically, stories like Jason Simcakoski’s exist all around the country, including in my home state of West Virginia. Far too many young West Virginia veterans have faced the horrors of PTSD and failed to receive the quality of care they deserve. These are heartbreaking examples of the grave magnitude of overmedication, and we must do everything in our power to prevent deadly opioid overmedication in our VA facilities. I am proud to join with Senator Baldwin to strengthen opioid prescribing guidelines and improve pain management services at the VA. This legislation will not only provide our veterans a healthier transition to civilian life, it will save lives,” said Senator Capito.

On Wednesday, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on pending health care and benefits legislation where Senator Baldwin will speak to the committee about the bipartisan legislation.

The Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act, crafted in close consultation with medical professionals, veterans service organizations, and the Simcakoski family, focuses on strengthening the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) opioid prescribing guidelines and improving pain management services by putting the following reforms in place:

  • Requiring stronger opioid prescribing guidelines and education for VA providers including stricter standards against prescribing dangerous combinations of opioids with other drugs and for prescribing opioids to patients struggling with mental health issues;
  • Increasing coordination and communication throughout the VA with medical facilities, providers, patients and their families surrounding pain management, alternative treatments for chronic pain, and appropriate opioid therapy; and
  • Holding the VA system accountable for appropriate care and quality standards through consistent internal audits as well as GAO reviews and reports to Congress.

In addition to improving opioid therapy and pain management, the Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act helps strengthen patient advocacy, expand access to complementary and integrative health and wellness, and enhance VA hiring and internal audits.

The Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act is supported by: Disabled American Veterans Wisconsin, Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Veterans for Common Sense, Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), Association of the United States Navy (AUSN), National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS), American Veterans (AMVETS), American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and Trust for America’s Health (TFAH).

On August 30, 2014, U.S. Marine Veteran Jason Simcakoski died at the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center as a result of mixed drug toxicity. The Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act would provide VA with the tools it needs to help prevent this type of tragedy from occurring to other veterans and their families.

“This is an opportunity to take all of this and learn from it. We have a chance to create a new path; or we can continue how we currently are and keep making the same mistakes we are today,” said Heather Simcakoski, Jason’s widow. “When I look back at the past, I want to know we made a difference. I want to believe we have leaders in our country who care. I want to inspire others to never give up because change is possible.”

“This legislation from Senator Baldwin is one of the most important actions we can take to save the lives of our greatest assets, our veterans,” said Marv Simcakoski, Jason’s father.

Learn more about the Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act here.

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22 thoughts on “Baldwin, Capito Introduce Bipartisan VA Reform Legislation”

  1. Paul says:

    To bad Tammy did nothing when she was informed of this happening in To ah.

  2. PMD says:

    Yeah Tammy and Ron Johnson should definitely have done more regarding Tomah. That doesn’t automatically mean this isn’t good legislation. What do you think of the legislation itself?

  3. Kyle says:

    I worry this is a case of trying to do something but not really knowing what to do. This press release isn’t the legislation, but I’m not sure that a law aiming to impose stronger guidelines and stricter standards while promising to hold doctors accountable really qualifies as improving care. It will probably reduce the risk of over-medicating for a few at the expense of under-medicating for many more. I also don’t see anything in here designed to help transition the veterans who are supposedly addicted thanks to the actions of the VA. Cutting them off cold turkey by threatening their doctors will probably drive some looking for other sources.

  4. PMD says:

    Kyle what do you think is the best way to counter doctors overmedicating VA patients? Or rather overmedicating patients in general? Is this a case of misplaced good intentions?

  5. Paul says:

    PMD, when Johnson first heard about this he did do something, to bad the committee he forwarded it to was headed by Tammy.

  6. Kyle says:

    During the debate over the ACA, we were told repeatedly that the government wasn’t going to get between a patient and their doctor. Well, that’s exactly what this bill is aiming to do. That may or may not be the needed approach, but I don’t think it identifies the actual issue that needs solving.

    Most of the ‘doctors’ at the VA that anyone sees are actually nurse practitioners, so is this issue with the actual doctors or their delegated authority?

    Is the issue really with combinations of drugs? Do the VA hospitals have the necessary tools to track possibly dangerous combinations of drugs if a patient is seen my multiple teams? If the issue is with the tools, will regulations and oversight actually fix anything?

    If the issue really is the doctors, and they can’t be trusted to write prescriptions, why trust them to do anything else? Is this systemic, with the VA filled with substandard doctors? Or is the issue that a few doctors are a problem, but for whatever reason they can’t be dealt with administratively?

  7. PMD says:

    A lot of politicians from both parties are very eager to get between a patient and their doctor. But those are all good questions Kyle. I can’t quibble with them. What do you think though is a good way to combat overmedication? I believe Florida had some success after it was discovered that painkillers were insanely easy to acquire for just about anyone looking for them, but I’m not sure what exactly they did to address the problem.

  8. Kyle says:

    I don’t know that I have the answer. I don’t even really know what the question is. The VA, like most of the military, is very predictable. If you’re suffering from x, y, and/or z, then _____ is the presumed cause. I’d like to see it look more like a private hospital, with similar incentives to curb malpractice, but that’s a bigger change than I think we’ll see in a generation. The quicker fixes, as they appear to me, would be to update the technology so that there is better patient tracking (admittedly, the cost of this will not happen in the current political climate). Then add training to the nurse practitioners and doctors on potential issues with commonly used VA treatments and procedures (even if the issues are from relatively rare or obscure causes). And finally, enact whatever changes you need to so that doctors committing what would be malpractice in a private hospital can be detected and dismissed.

  9. PMD says:

    Kyle you’re a vet right? Is this just pandering (aka support the troops)?

  10. Kyle says:

    Yes, I am a vet. This seems to me to be pandering, or at least doing something because it looks like you should do something. It will play out well in the press to say this bipartisan bill will ensure something gets done, but it doesn’t really address any problems. I’d rather see them do more to tackle the VA wait times, and secret wait times, and all the administrative issues that have plagued it the past few years (probably much longer, but it’s been more publicized lately). While it’s bad when someone dies from over-medication, if the reason for the medication is excessively long wait times for a real solution, then what does it solve to regulate the medication?

    My most representative story of military medicine comes from active duty, not VA, but the issues are similar. Doing training, I broke my wrist one year. It took me two weeks to get an x-ray, because the prescription for an injured wrist is medication and a brief break from push-ups. So then I got an x-ray, and that showed the break. The nurse practitioner said that it was broken, and would require surgery, but regulations required that casting be tried first. So 8 weeks in a cast, and the same prognosis later, and I could schedule an appointment with a hand surgeon. 4 weeks after that, I saw the hand surgeon, who took x-rays, confirmed prior diagnosis, and scheduled surgery another 4 weeks out. I get that there are inefficiencies in any system, but it frustrates me that rather than attempt to figure out the real problem, they’re going to better monitor what drugs we’re given while waiting.

  11. PMD says:

    Yeah that’s my impression too. And that’s a crazy story. 4-5 months to get surgery on what was clearly a broken wrist. Yikes.

  12. Paul says:

    PMD, that was what I heard and your link proves it. Sentence number ten states that the Senator had no knowledge of the scandal. Also the story states that Johnson’s staffers reported what they knew to the committee right away but it never made it to the committees leaders. Baldwin was one of the heads of the committee and she knew of the scandal.

  13. PMD says:

    Paul clearly he was too busy courting money from white supremacists to have time for other matters like acting on a whistleblower’s tip.

  14. Paul says:

    PMD, once again you resort to lies and trying to change the subject. Your link proved my point and I once again thank you for that

  15. PMD says:

    Well the white supremacist from CCC did donate money to RoJo, among other Republicans. That isn’t a lie. And you wouldn’t know the truth if it was a sledgehammer hitting you squarely in the face. Hell will freeze over before you ever admit than RoJo did something wrong here, even though the whistleblower himself found fault with the way RoJo and his office handled it. You think because Baldwin’s error was greater it absolves Johnson of all wrongdoing? Sorry but that isn’t how it works.

  16. Paul says:

    PMD, where do I start with your nonsense. #1 The lie was that he was to busy counting his money from a racist group to care. #2 Senator Johnson according to the story you linked up had no knowledge of the Tomah scandal, his office forwarded the information from the whistle blower to the committee that was supposed to be handling veteran affairs, should they have informed the Senator, in hide sight, yes. #3 Senator Baldwin had all the same information as Senator Johnson’s staff and sat on the committee but did nothing. So yes, that’s how it works

  17. PMD says:

    “Johnson: My office could have done more on Tomah”

    “Honl (the whistleblower) said Monday he believes both senators let him down”

    http://www.postcrescent.com/story/news/politics/2015/03/10/johnson-office-done-tomah/24722809/

    But yes keep telling yourself he did absolutely nothing wrong here.

  18. Paul says:

    PMD, “Johnson :My office could have done more on Tomah ” Thanks again for proving my point that his OFFICE could have done more.

  19. PMD says:

    Who runs that office Paul? Tammy Baldwin? And why is the whistleblower disappointed in Johnson?

  20. Paul says:

    PMD, just read the article you posted and the answers to all your questions are there. Johnson wasn’t informed, his staff forwarded the information they had to the committee headed by Baldwin. Baldwin knew about it for months and did nothing till it hit the news.

  21. PMD says:

    Denial is not just a river in Egypt.

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