The family of Jason Simcakoski, Marine Corps veteran, who died in August 2014 as a result of sixteen different opiates and other sedatives prescribed for him at the Tomah, Wisconsin, Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital, is set to receive $2.3 million. A judge in a federal courtroom in Madison, Wisconsin, accepted the terms in one of the largest Department of Veterans Affairs’ malpractice and wrongful death lawsuits to date. However, the settlement does not answer the questions of those who wonder why the crooked culture of the VA system has prevailed for so long.
Media coverage has shown how the VA has helped to aid in the nation’s opioid epidemic, overprescribing dangerous medications and leading to the deaths of thousands of the nation’s veterans. The VA has denied negligence in the death of Simcakoski even though he was given an extremely potent cocktail of dangerous medications, and it took the hospital ten minutes to begin CPR and almost a half-hour to find a defibrillator in the hospital in an effort to resuscitate the serviceman. The VA then delayed for almost an entire year offering any response to the family’s malpractice and wrongful death complaint.
Those who have criticized the VA system claim there is a pervasive pattern of using every means possible to protect a long-established culture of delay, cover-ups, and obfuscation. VA clinicians aren’t personally liable for medical errors, and the federal government doesn’t pay punitive damages on claims against it.
“Honestly, this wasn’t about the money,” says Simcakoski’s widow Heather. “We don’t need it. What happened was wrong and it’s about holding the VA accountable.” The two have a fifteen-year-old daughter now living without her father.
A VA spokesperson provided the following statement: “Resolution of this case will hopefully provide some closure and security for Mr. Simcakoski’s widow, minor child, and parents, but VA also recognizes that there is nothing that can replace this family’s loss of a father, husband, and son.”
Tracy Eiswert knows all too well the crooked culture of the VA. She has fought to have her malpractice lawsuit heard since her husband, Scott, committed suicide by shooting himself to death nine years ago. He was denied benefits, a PTSD diagnosis, and competent care by the clinic.
Following Scott’s suicide, the benefits due to him, now worth $1,500 a month, and a belated diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were eventually awarded to his family. Officials also included an apology letter, but Tracy still hasn’t gotten the settlement she’s been seeking all those years.
Eiswert first filed a claim in 2010, but that was denied. So, she turned to federal court the following year with a new lawsuit, again denied. She has faced multiple objections based due to Tennessee statutes designed to limit malpractice lawsuits. “It has been eight years of torture for Tracy and her family without the VA ever denying liability,” Tracy’s attorney, Cristobal Bonifaz, said.
“All I’m asking is for a chance to argue my case on its merits, not on technicalities,” Eiswert pleaded. The widow is currently using most of the cash from Scott’s life insurance policy to help pay for psychiatric hospitalizations and mental health care for her youngest teenage daughter, who is suffering from PTSD, depression and multiple suicide attempts after the passing of her father.
The VA’s legal settlements more than tripled between 2011 and 2015 to $338 million, mostly for malpractice lawsuits, and it spent $848 million, mainly on medical mistakes, during the same five-year period. Families want answers and the institution is in desperate need of change.