WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) announced today that he has signed onto bipartisan legislation to reform Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare to provide safer and more effective pain management services to our nation’s veterans. The legislation was introduced in memory of Jason Simcakoski, a U.S. Marine who died at a VA Medical Center last year 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 happening to other veterans and their families.
“Opioid abuse is a public health crisis and we have an obligation to our nation’s veterans to do all we can to protect their safety,” said Sen. Warner. “This legislation will enhance the VA’s opioid prescribing guidelines, improve pain management services, and add oversight and accountability at the VA in order to prevent more tragedies.”
Jason Simcakoski died on August 30, 2014 in the short-stay mental health unit of a VA Medical Center in Tomah, WI, having taken 13 prescribed medications, including several that cause respiratory depression, in a single 24-hour period. A Department of Veterans Affairs investigation into the Marine’s death found that VA staff failed to properly prescribe medications and botched the medical response when Simcakoski was found unresponsive in his bed.
The Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act, introduced by lead sponsors Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV), was crafted in close consultation with medical professionals, veterans service organizations, and the Simcakoski family. It focuses on strengthening the 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 a number of national veterans service organizations and health advocacy groups, including 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).