06.22.15

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 

Baldwin and Capito joined in introduction by Senators Blumenthal, Brown, Hirono, Johnson, Kaine, Manchin, Markey, Moran, Murray, Sanders, and Tester

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.