06.16.15

U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Announces Major Veterans Legislation to Combat Opioid Abuse

Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act would provide VA with the tools it needs to address the problem of overprescribing practices

“The overreliance on opioids has resulted in getting our veterans hooked instead of getting them the help they deserve.”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Baldwin today announced her plans to introduce major legislation aimed at providing safer and more effective pain management services to our nation’s veterans.

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.

“After two, decade-long wars, our veterans and their families are facing the difficult challenges of physical injuries, PTSD and other mental illnesses. We must confront these problems more safely and more effectively to help them meet that challenge. I believe the VA’s overreliance on opioids has resulted in getting our veterans hooked instead of getting them the help they deserve,” said Senator Baldwin. The Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act will take steps to address VA’s overuse of opioids and to improve quality pain management for veterans and their families, including by giving them a stronger voice in their care. My legislation proposes a number of solutions to strengthen opioid prescribing guidelines; improve coordination and communication throughout the VA; and put in place stronger oversight and accountability for the quality of care we are providing our veterans. My goal is to put these reforms in place to prevent Jason’s 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.

Senator Baldwin’s legislation, 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;
  • Increased 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.

“DAV Wisconsin has closely followed the overmedication issue at the Tomah VA Medical Center. We have given input to Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson and Interim Under Secretary for Health Dr. Carolyn Clancy to prevent future occurrences. Additionally, we have submitted testimony to the Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. DAV Wisconsin strongly supports the introduction of the Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act by Senator Baldwin and feels, if enacted, it will be an important step in preventing future tragedies at Tomah VA and other VA sites,” said Disabled American Veterans Wisconsin (DAV Wisconsin) Legislative Director Al Labelle.

“Veterans who struggle with complex pain or mental health care conditions have earned and deserve a VA health care system that provides them the best health care available in a timely manner. The VFW supports this important legislation, which we believe will improve the health care VA provides America’s veterans, and we thank Senator Baldwin for her leadership in bringing it forward,” said Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) National Legislative Director Raymond Kelley.

“The American Society of Addiction Medicine is pleased to support the introduction of the Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act, sponsored by Senator Baldwin. Improving opioid prescribing practices, including through prescriber education, is a crucial component of a multipronged effort to stem the epidemic of prescription drug addiction and overdose deaths in the U.S., and we applaud the Senator for the comprehensive approach this legislation takes to ensuring our veterans receive safe and compassionate care,” said American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) President R. Jeffrey Goldsmith, MD, DLFAPA, FASAM.

“Disabled American Veterans is dedicated to a single purpose: empowering veterans to lead high-quality lives with respect and dignity. Based on several resolutions adopted by our membership in our most recent National Convention, DAV strongly supports the Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act which seeks to improve VA patient advocacy services, expand availability of complementary and alternative health care services for pain management, and ensure safe prescribing practices of addictive substances. We appreciate Senator Baldwin’s leadership in developing this legislation and we urge Congress to proceed with its enactment this year,” said Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Executive Director Garry J. Augustine.

“As the nation’s largest organization representing people living with serious mental illness and their families, the National Alliance on Mental Illness offers our strong support for the Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act and Senator Baldwin’s leadership in bringing forward legislation that aims to provide safe and appropriate opioid prescribing practices at the VA. We applaud the Senator’s call to provide enhanced prescribing guidelines, case management, monitoring programs, the establishment of pain management boards, and in providing access to community meetings to address these issues. We thank Senator Baldwin for bringing this important legislation forward and look forward to working to ensure its swift passage,” said National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Manager of Military and Veterans Policy Ingrid Herrera-Yee, PhD.

Senator Baldwin’s legislation 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), American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and Trust for America's Health (TFAH).

Read what supporters are saying about the Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act here.

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