January 5, 2016

Sgt. Shaft caricatureDear Sgt Shaft
What is being done to promote safer management of potentially addictive drugs for our nation’s Veterans?

Alfred S.
Via the Internet

Dear Alfred
U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin has recently commended the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs for passing an updated version of her Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act, a bill aimed at providing safer and more effective pain management services to our nation’s veterans. The legislation was cleared today as part of a larger bill, to improve health care and other issues at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which unanimously passed the committee by voice vote. The entire section of the legislation related to veterans’ health care is titled The Jason Simcakoski Memorial Act. The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

“I am grateful to the members of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs for their support as this critical bipartisan legislation moves forward. Families like the Simcakoski family have a story to tell that needs to be heard,” said Senator Baldwin. “After two, decade-long wars, our veterans and their families are facing the difficult challenges of physical injuries, addiction, PTSD and other mental illnesses. We must find safer and more effective ways to confront these problems to help them meet those challenges. My provisions propose 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.” (Download AUDIO of this statement here.)

“I know Jason is looking down and smiling at us because this will be something that I know he would be proud of. I’m grateful to Senator Baldwin and her staff for their tireless work on this reform because it’s going to help other veterans and active duty servicemen and women. We want Jason to be remembered as someone who gave his life to save the lives of other veterans. This bill gives people hope for a brighter future,” said Marv Simcakoski, Jason’s father.

“This brings meaning to Jason’s life and is another step forward to these reforms becoming law, so other families don’t suffer what we’ve had to endure. I want this to be hope for them – hope that it’s going to change and that this new law is going to protect them and their loved ones,” said Heather Simcakoski, Jason’s widow.

“I want to commend [Senator Baldwin], the Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act is included in the omnibus bill. We all were here for the hearing about the terrible tragedy in Jason’s life and his contribution will be lasting when this legislation memorializes the lessons learned from the opioid incident that happened at Tomah. I want to thank you very much, Tammy, for your contribution and I’m glad that we were able to deliver on what we promised,” said Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-GA) at the outset of today’s hearing.

Chairman Isakson also stated Senator Baldwin’s bill, in addition to a caregivers bill introduced by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), would be viewed as one of the “great accomplishments” of the committee.

Senator Baldwin’s Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act, introduced in June with Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), was produced in close consultation with medical professionals, veterans’ service organizations, and the Simcakoski family. The bill that cleared the committee today focuses on strengthening 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 enhances VA hiring and internal audits.

“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 tragic rise in opioid overdose deaths among our veterans and active duty military personnel demands urgent attention. Harm Reduction Coalition supports the thoughtful, comprehensive approach taken by Senator Baldwin’s Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act to improve opioid prescribing and pain management, expand the VA’s promising Overdose Education and Naloxone Distribution program, and ensure effective guidance and clear accountability across the VA system,” said Daniel Raymond, Policy Director, Harm Reduction Coalition.

“Every hour in the United States, five people die as the result of a drug overdose. Of the 22,767 pharmaceutical overdose deaths in 2013, 71.3 percent involved opioid analgesics. This epidemic is affecting people of all ages, experiences and income levels, and our nation’s veterans are no exception. In fact, research has shown that abuse of prescription drugs is higher among service members and veterans than among the general population. With these sobering data in mind, we are proud to support the Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act, and we applaud Senator Baldwin for taking this important step to save the lives of those who have put their lives on the line for us,” said National Safety Council President & CEO Deborah A. P. Hersman.

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