By Debbie Gregory.
Former Marine Jason Simcakoski was 35 when he died in 2014 at the Tomah VA facility. His death uncovered a reality of overprescribed opioid painkillers at the facility.
From 2006 to 2014, Simcakoski had been treated for a variety of conditions. He was admitted to the Tomah VA’s psychiatric unit on Aug. 10, 2014. Less than three weeks later, he was found unresponsive. It took 10 minutes for life-saving CPR to begin, but by then, it was too late.
An autopsy revealed that Simcakoski died from mixed-drug toxicity.
The government reached a $2.3 million settlement with Simcakoski’s survivors , namely his widow Heather and daughter Anaya.
Simcakoski’s death led to the passage of the Jason Simcakoski Memorial and Promise Act, a law aimed at improving the way opioid medications are used in treating veterans, improving patient advocacy by the VA Secretary, and expanding the availability of complementary and integrative health.
An inspector general’s report in 2015 found that Tomah VA doctors commonly over-prescribed opioid painkillers, earning the facility the nickname “Candy Land.” Tomah VA’s chief of staff, Dr. David Houlihan, was fired and permanently surrendered his medical license.
Simcakoski was never advised of the risks associated with the medications he was given. Additionally, the delays in the start of CPR and the lack of medication at the Tomah VA to reverse drug overdoses contributed to his death.
Heather Simcakoski, who is also a Marine Corps veteran, says there was a point when she didn’t know it was possible to move forward. But now she is ready to dedicate a significant amount of her time to the new project she and daughter Anaya are getting ready to launch that will give back to veterans and their families.