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$2.3 Million Settlement in Marine Veteran’s Death

jason and heather

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.

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The Importance of the Jason Simcakoski PROMISE Act

simcakoski

By Debbie Gregory.

Legislation currently moving through Congress would honor Marine Jason Simcakoski and change how VA medical centers handle patient pain management and prescription pain killer distribution.

The Jason Simcakoski PROMISE Act is named for the Wisconsin veteran who died after receiving a toxic cocktail of pain medications through the Tomah, WI VA Medical Center.

The legislation is getting bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.

Simcakoski died Aug. 30, 2014, in the hospital’s short-stay mental health unit. He had taken 13 prescribed medications, including several that cause respiratory depression, in a 24-hour period. Not only did the staff fail to properly prescribe the medications, they blundered the medical response when Simcakoski was found unresponsive in his bed.

Representative Ron Kind of La Crosse, WI said that America needs to keep its promise to take care of our veterans. “Two million of our veterans [are] now coming home from deployments in Iraq, & Afghanistan. Most of them are bringing home with them a lot of physical and mental needs. ”

The legislation has the support of veterans groups such as the Disabled American Veterans, American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Paralyzed Veterans of America.

The Jason Simcakoski PROMISE Act focuses on updating pain management guidelines, strengthening provider education and training, improving patient advocacy, and authorizing a new commission to examine alternative treatments.

Simcakoski served in the Marines from 1998-2002 and suffered a head injury. Anxiety attacks led him to seek care at the Tomah VA, where his family said he struggled for over four years with no improvement, despite the long list of medications.

At the legislative hearing, Jason’s father, Marvin Simcakoski, said, “The Jason Simcakoski PROMISE Act is an important piece of history. Helping our veterans get the best care possible is the ultimate goal. The guidelines in the Jason Simcakoski PROMISE Act will help the VA give our veterans and service men and women the best health care they deserve. Our family doesn’t want to see what happened to our son Jason happen to another veteran our service person. Our family is proud to support this bill.”

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

The Tragic Consequences of Over-Prescribing of Painkillers : Military Connection

Military Connection: jason

By Debbie Gregory.

As the first anniversary of Jason Simcakoski’s passing approaches, an inspector general’s report faults a Wisconsin Veterans Affairs hospital for the accidental overdose of the Marine Corps veteran.

The outrage of Simcakoski’s death has sparked legislation aimed at strengthening guidelines for prescribing painkillers. His parents, widow and daughter watched as a Senate committee weighed an overhaul bill, sponsored by a Wisconsin senator, designed to curb overdose deaths at Wisconsin’s Tomah VA and other medical centers across the country. It was a crucial first step for the legislation, though many hurdles remain and its future is uncertain.

The inspector general’s report revealed that Jason Simcakoski’s death in August, 2014 was a reaction to a toxic mix of at least 12 prescribed drugs. It also faulted VA staff for the chaotic resuscitation response, and failing to have the proper drugs on hand to counteract Simcakoski’s overdose.

The Tomah VA has been dubbed “Candyland” for what some say was wanton overprescription of opiates.

Simcakoski served in the Marines from 1998-2002 and suffered a head injury. Anxiety attacks led him to seek care at the Tomah VA, where his family said he struggled for over four years with no improvement, despite a long list of medications.

An autopsy found the mix of drugs in system resulted in his death while an in-patient at the facility. The two psychiatrists who prescribed drugs to Simcakoski did not talk to him or his family about risks associated with the drugs.

In response to the report, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., who requested the investigation, released a statement saying “This report confirms that the Tomah VA physicians entrusted with Jason’s care failed to keep their promise to a Wisconsin Marine and his family.”

Sen. Baldwin has sponsored a bill that calls for an update to guidelines for the use of opioids for pain management, new safety training for health care providers, and real-time reporting and tracking of veterans’ narcotic prescriptions. Sen. Shelly Moore Capito, R-W.V., cosponsored the bill.

The report on Simcakoski’s death recommends local VA officials determine whether anyone should be punished, and that the facility director review medical emergency procedures.

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The Tragic Consequences of Over-Prescribing of Painkillers : Military Connection: by Debbie Gregory