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Reforms Inspired By Tomah Veteran Death Head To Obama’s Desk

Reforms Focus On Opioid Prescribing Practices At Veterans Hospitals

Maureen McCollum/WPR

Reforms inspired by the drug overdose death of a veteran at the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center almost two years ago have passed the U.S. Senate and now head to the president’s desk.

U.S. Marine Corps veteran Jason Simcakoski died from a mixture of medications at the Tomah VA in August 2014. U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin introduced the Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act last June. The bill creates stronger opioid prescribing guidelines for veterans hospitals and puts in place new oversight and accountability measures.

Baldwin said she worked with the Simcakoski family throughout the legislative process, and was moved by their commitment.

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“It was, and is, inspiring to see a family say, ‘We are going to turn our heartbreak and our tragedy into hope for others,’” Baldwin said.

Speaking with Wisconsin Public Radio earlier this month, U.S. Rep. Ron Kind said Simcakoski’s death brought the issues to light. Kind was a co-sponsor on the legislation in the House.

The changes were the product of a bipartisan effort, Baldwin added.

“We have to work together to keep the sacred trust between our veterans and the VA charged with providing them the care they’ve earned,” she said.

Some Democrats have criticized the package of bills, called the Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act, that housed the opioid reforms, saying they lack necessary funding for addiction treatment.

The reforms passed the Senate on Wednesday, and now move to President Barack Obama for his signature.