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Gus Bilirakis Pushes for VA, Defense to Reform Handling Opioid Medicines

November 19, 2015 - 12:30pm
Gus Bilirakis
Gus Bilirakis

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., the vice chairman of the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee, brought out a bill on Wednesday to update the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) and the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DOD) use of opioid medicines.

Bilirakis introduced the Promoting Responsible Opioid Management and Incorporating Scientific Expertise Act (PROMISE Act) on Wednesday. The bill makes the VA and DOD update their guidelines for prescribing opioids.  The proposal also increases transparency and makes the VA share more information with state licensing boards.

“The tragic death of Marine Corp. Veteran Jason Simcakoski in the Tomah, Wisconsin VA Medical Facility prompted the need for congressional action,” Bilirakis said. “This August, nearly one year from Jason’s death, the Office of Inspector General released a report that concluded Jason’s cause of death was due to mixed drug toxicity and the combination of various medications was the plausible mechanism of action for a fatal outcome. In light of this unfortunate and possibly avoidable tragedy, I am proud to introduce the PROMISE Act. This legislation will further my efforts to help our veterans receive the quality care they have earned. My PROMISE Act will provide our veterans safer, more personalized care to deal with the physical and mental wounds they are facing and will help improve efficiency at the VA.”

Bilirakis also rolled over content from his “Creating Options for Veterans' Expedited Recovery (COVER) Act" which added more  alternative therapies in VA care.

"While it is vital that veterans receive the care they need, it is equally important to recognize that one size does not fit all when discussing treatments for veterans," Bilirakis said last November when he testified on the bill’s behalf. "The invisible wounds they sustain serving our country are just as serious as physical ones. While many veterans may thrive under traditional plans and medical care, some may not be as responsive. We need to provide veterans with choices and easy access to alternative forms of therapies that work best for them. The COVER Act will ascertain the viability of alternative treatments, providing a pathway forward that will eventually allow veterans to have a range of options for mental health treatments. such as outdoor sports therapy, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, accelerated resolution therapy, and service dog therapy.”

Bilirakis reeled in 15 co-sponsors for the PROMISE Act including U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, R-Wisc., and, from the Florida delegation, Republican U.S. Reps. John Mica and Dennis Ross and Democratic U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel. 

“We must make sure no other veterans and their families have to go through what the Simcakoski family and others have had to,” Kind said in support of Bilirakis’ bill. “One of the best ways to do this is to give veteran patients and their families a real role in VA oversight and to provide health care professionals better training on the negative effects of prescription painkillers. This legislation uses some of the lessons learned from problems at Tomah to help the VA provide better care for veterans nationwide. I appreciate Congressman Bilirakis’s help in ensuring our veterans get the care they have earned and deserve.” 

Reach Kevin Derby at or follow him on Twitter: @KevinDerbySSN

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