VA reforms inspired by Wisconsin veteran Jason Simcakoski moving forward

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) -- There’s a transformation underway in how we treat veterans and their pain. When one Wisconsin veteran died from a deadly cocktail of prescription drugs at the Tomah VA, changes began. In his honor, Congress passed the Jason Simcakoski Memorial and PROMISE Act. DC Correspondent Alana Austin reports on how Jason’s family continues – years later – to fight for change in Washington.

“If things would’ve been like they are now…I feel that Jason would still be alive today,” said Marv Simcakoski.

This week, the Simcakoskis are back on Capitol Hill: in meetings with lawmakers and VA leaders to check in on the progress of the law named after their loved one.

“We’re seeing some good positive results, and we’re hearing it from veterans,” said Marv.

Sweeping reforms came after Jason Simcakoski, a Wisconsin Marine veteran, died in 2014 from mixed drug toxicity while a patient at the Tomah VA. Now his dad, Marv, and Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin (D), say Jason’s law is leading to fewer veterans being prescribed a combination of dangerous drugs.

“Our efforts together really turned a horrible tragedy into hope for so many others,” said Senator Baldwin.

With Jason’s law, the VA put in place much more rigorous training and opioid prescription guidelines. Plus, offering veterans more alternatives therapies instead of addicting drugs.

“No one’s turning their backs on veterans in pain. There are in fact more options…to help empower a veteran,” said Baldwin.

While Baldwin and the Simcakoskis say there are many good changes in place, challenges remain. New laws allow veterans to seek more care outside VA centers, and leaders want to see those private practices follow cautious drug policies, and track any opioid prescriptions.

As the Simcakoskis continue their advocacy, Marv says his son continues inspiring him.

“I know he’s looking down thanks for all you’re doing, so I’m proud that he was my son,” said Marv.

The next big change the Simcakoskis want to see is for designated patient advocates to become independent - separate from the VA – so they are more inclined to report issues. At the Tomah center, the Simcakoski family says they are very happy with progress being made there. And this fall, they’re planning to open a nine-hole therapy golf course for veterans, in memory of their son.

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