A bill to provide safer and more effective pain management services for military veterans is advancing through Congress.

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, said last week that the House of Representatives will soon vote on the Jason Simcakoski Memorial Promise Act.

He anticipates “wide bipartisan support” for the measure.

“We’re not detecting any opposition from any circles at this point,” Kind said. “I hope we’re going to get a resounding show of support from Congress in a couple of weeks and that the president will be signing the bill into law.”

The bill passed a House committee unanimously on a voice vote. A companion bill is working its way through the U.S. Senate.

The bill was named after Simcakoski, who died of a drug overdose while being treated at the Tomah Veterans Administration Medical Center. His death and other reports of over-medicated patients at the Tomah VA led to the dismissal of the hospital’s director and medical chief of staff.

The bill requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to update pain management guidelines, increase provider education and training, enhance patient advocacy and authorizes a new commission to examine alternative treatments.

“It encourages greater use of alternative and complementary forms of medicine so that we’re not just loading up veterans with a cocktail of prescriptions drugs,” Kind said.

Kind said the Tomah VA story mirrors a larger problems with addiction in the general population. He said bills to address wider drug abuse problem are stalled due to funding disputes.

“If we’re going to do this the right way, we’re going to need additional resources,” he said. “Local law enforcement is being overwhelmed by this.”

Kind said he intends to run for re-election and that he has never met his Democratic primary opponent, Myron Buchholz of Eau Claire. Buchholz has criticized Kind for supporting international trade agreements and backing foreign military actions, including the Iraq war.

Kind said voters will respond to his bipartisan approach to issues. He said one measure rated him the 11th most bipartisan among the 435 members of the House.

“I would hope this election cycle will bring more like-minded individuals (to Congress),” Kind said.

On other issues, Kind said Tomah VA needs a permanent director. The facility has been led by two interim directors since March 2015.

“It’s very important to get a permanent director and get some consistency with the reforms taking place,” he said.

Kind’s office returned $125,000 of his $1.7 million office budget to the federal treasury.

“Fiscal responsibility starts with the things you have direct control over,” he said.

As a super-delegate to the Democratic convention, Kind said he will vote for Hillary Clinton. He lauded Clinton’s “agenda to expand the middle class” and her experience.

“I don’t think the office is a good place for on-the-job training,” he said.

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Tomah Journal editor

Steve Rundio is editor of the Tomah Journal. Contact him at 608-374-7785.

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