Senate bill aims to retool VA prescription policies after vet’s death

U.S. Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) introduced the Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act on Monday.

The legislation aims to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide safer and more effective pain-management services, especially the use of prescription opioids, to the nation’s veterans.

On Aug. 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 make policy changes and add restrictions to provide the VA with the tools it needs to help prevent this type of tragedy 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,” Capito said. “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.”

Joining Baldwin and Capito for the introduction of the bill were Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) , Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, and U.S. Sens. 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).

“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,” Capito said.

The Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act was designed after intense discussions with medical professionals, veterans’ service organizations and Simcakoski’s family. The bill focuses on strengthening the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) opioid-prescribing guidelines while improving pain-management services by putting a number of reforms in effect, including:

• 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
• Holding the VA system accountable for appropriate care and quality standards through consistent internal audits, as well as General Accounting Office reviews and reports to Congress.

The Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act is strongly supported by several influential organizations, including 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).