Settlement OK’d for Marine’s Overdose Death at VA Hospital

MADISON, Wis. (CN) – A federal judge in Wisconsin approved a $2.3 million settlement agreement Tuesday in a wrongful death case filed by the family of a Marine veteran who died of drug toxicity at a Veterans Affairs hospital.

Jason Simcakoski died of a drug overdose while receiving mental health care at the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center in 2014.

His widow and daughter filed a federal lawsuit against the government last year, claiming staff at the VA hospital overprescribed him a mixture of drugs and failed to provide adequate emergency care when a nurse found him unresponsive. The family was represented by attorney Terrence Polich of Clifford & Raihala in Madison, Wis.

After months of litigation, the parties’ came to a $2.3 million settlement agreement this month. The government was represented by Justice Department attorneys.

U.S. District Judge James Peterson approved the deal Tuesday, finding it “fair, reasonable and in the best interests of the minor and the estate.”

About $1.65 million in cash up front and $695,000 in annuities will go to Simcakoski’s widow Heather Simcakosk and their daughter Anaya Simcakoski. The settlement also calls for attorney fees and expenses.

Simcakoski was honorably discharged from the army in 2002 and received health care services at VA facilities from 2006 to 2014 for a variety of conditions, including bipolar disorder, depression and substance abuse.

In August 2014, he was admitted to the Tomah VA Acute Psychiatric Unit and died 20 days later in a Short Stay Mental Health Recovery unit. Prior to his death, a VA social worker recommended he start using the prescription drug Suboxone, which was approved by then-Chief of Staff David Houlihan, according to the Simcakoski family’s lawsuit.

“At the time the Suboxone was ordered, given the other drugs Jason was receiving, the dispensing pharmacist should have refused to fill the Suboxone prescription or taken other steps to protect Jason from the drug interactions,” the complaint states.

The Marine veteran reportedly ingested at least seven different drugs on the day of his death. The Monroe County Medical Examiner ruled the cause of death mixed drug toxicity.

His death prompted the firing of both Houlihan and Mario DeSanctis, the former head of the Tomah VA facility.

Dean Puschnig of the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined Wednesday to comment on the settlement. An attorney for the Simcakoskis did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.

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