MADISON, Wis. — The family of a Marine veteran who died from a toxic mix of more than a dozen drugs at a U.S. Veterans Affairs facility in Tomah, Wisconsin, filed a wrongful death and medical malpractice lawsuit against the U.S. government Monday.
The federal lawsuit filed in Madison, Wisconsin, alleges VA caregivers improperly prescribed and administered drugs to Jason Simcakoski, who was 35 when he died in 2014. It also alleges the VA failed to provide adequate emergency care for Simcakoski when he was found unresponsive and did not properly diagnose his mental health and substance abuse problems.
Last year, the VA’s inspector general ruled that deficiencies in care led to Simcakoski’s death. One physician who attended to him was fired.
The lawsuit filed Monday by Simcakoski’s wife seeks unspecified compensation. It lists the couple’s daughter as a plaintiff.
Neither a Justice Department attorney listed in court documents nor a VA representative could be immediately reached by The Associated Press for comment.
According to the lawsuit, a doctor prescribed Simcakoski Suboxone — a drug often used to treat addicts of heroin and other opiates — to alleviate chronic pain and potentially decrease anxiety. The lawsuit alleges Simcakoski was not warned that was an off-label use of the drug or that Suboxone would interact with other medicines he was already taking. It also alleges he was given too high a dosage.
The lawsuit says Simcakoski’s family visited him at the Tomah facility hours before his death on August 30, 2014, and his father was concerned because he was “so sedated he could barely speak.”
A nursing staff member found him unresponsive at 2:45 p.m., but CPR was not started until 10 minutes later and emergency responders didn’t arrive for 20 minutes, according to the lawsuit.
The Tomah facility was dubbed “Candy Land” by some veterans for its prescribing practices. A 2015 VA report concluded that patients at there were more likely than patients at other VA hospitals to receive high doses of pain killers.
The center has said it is committed to improving the care it provides to veterans. Its acting director said after the release of the report on Simcakoski’s death that changes were being made to address the problems identified, including improving life-saving emergency procedures and reviewing medications available on emergency crash carts.