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August 5, 2015

Baldwin unveils ‘Jason Simcakoski’ opiates bill

Tomah VA

Tomah VA

Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin has introduced a bill to help prevent abuse of pain medication by veterans. It’s a response to the problems uncovered at the Tomah Veterans Administration medical center, including the death of Marine veteran Jason Simcakoski last year.

“This legislation would provide the VA with the tools that it needs to prevent this type of tragedy from occurring to other veterans and their families,” Baldwin said.

According to a release from her office, Baldwin’s legislation was written in  consultation with medical professionals, veterans service organizations, and the Simcakoski family.

It focuses on strengthening the VA’s  opioid prescribing guidelines and improving pain management services by putting the following reforms in place:

·         Requiring stronger opioid prescribing guidelines and education for VA providers including stricter standards against prescribing dangerous combinations of opioids with other drugs and for prescribing opioids to patients struggling with mental health issues;

·         Increased coordination and communication throughout the VA with medical facilities, providers, patients and their families surrounding pain management, alternative treatments for chronic pain, and appropriate opioid therapy; and

·         Holding the VA system accountable for appropriate care and quality standards through consistent internal audits as well as GAO reviews and reports to Congress.

In addition to improving opioid therapy and pain management, the Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act helps strengthen patient advocacy, expand access to complementary and integrative health and wellness, and enhance VA hiring and internal audits.

Search resumes for Globemaster remains — 63 years after crash

The wreckage site of the C-124 Globemaster is only accessible by helicopter. (PHOTO: courtesy U.S. Air Force photos/Tech. Sgt.)

The wreckage site of the C-124 Globemaster is only accessible by helicopter. (PHOTO: U.S. Air Force photos/Tech. Sgt.)

The search has resumed for the remains of servicemen killed in a military plane crash in Alaska in 1952. Three of those still missing are from Wisconsin.

Last year remains recovered from wreckage embedded in the Colony Glacier were identified as belonging to 17 of the 52 men that died when a C-124 Globemaster cargo plane nicknamed “Old Shaky” crashed into Mount Gannett on November 22, 1952. Those remains were returned to the families of those men.

The men from Wisconsin that were on that flight were Airman 2nd Class Thomas Condon of Waukesha, Airman 2nd Class Dan McMann of Marinette, and Airman 2nd Class Edward Miller of Evansville.

The wreckage has been carried by the glacier to a site roughly 15 miles from where the crash occurred. It was spotted in 2012 and each summer since then, a joint military team has gone to the site to recover wreckage and any human remains that can be found. Due to the terrain and weather it is only accessible about two weeks out of the year, and only by helicopter.

Air Force Tech Sergeant John Gordinier was with the team that landed at the site Monday. He said it’s a treacherous site, with crevices in the ice that stretch down “as far as the eye can see,” on a glacier that is always moving, but he said there is good reason that in spite of the danger, teams keep returning.

“We’re always taught from day one, being in boot camp, you never leave a man behind,” Gordinier said. “Even though it’s been 60 years, to be able to provide closure to the families, to be able to give them that sense, to give them the ability to bury and do a full honors funeral that they deserve, that’s why we do it.

“(Bringing these servicemen home is) an honor to do,” Gordinier added.

He said time is of the essence, however, as the glacier empties into Lake George. Any remains and wreckage that are not recovered could be lost if they reach the lake.

“It really, ultimately is what the glacier is allowing us to see and allowing us to collect,” said Gordinier. “There’s plenty underneath the ice still, so ultimately it comes down to what we’re able to see, because it’s not like we can go out there and just dig through the ice and look for other remains or debris.”

If the team finds any human remains, the military will begin the process of attempting to identify them.

The recovery mission is a joint effort of the Alaskan Command, Alaska National Guard, active-duty military members and civilians.

Mike Lear, MissouriNet

Memorial Day 2015

Memorial Day for many is a time for family, barbecues, shopping, and weekend getaways. But, many folks are also remembering the fallen men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary John Scocos said many troops have died for their country. “The service members that made this country what it is today, many have paid the ultimate price for serving their country.”

Since the Civil War, nearly 27,000 Wisconsin troops have been killed in the line of duty.

The recently identified remains of a La Crosse soldier was buried Thursday in Arlington National Cemetery … 65 years after he fought and died in North Korea.

“That’s a great tribute,” Scocos said, “especially on Memorial Day weekend and finally closure for that family.”

Only one percent of the current population is involved in the armed forces. That’s why, Scocos said, it’s especially important to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Americans are asked to take a moment of silent contemplation for the National Moment of Remembrance at 3:00pm local time to remember the war dead.

The Wisconsin Veterans Museum on the Capitol Square is open Memorial Day.

Wisconsin soldier buried at Arlington, 65 years later

Francis Knobel

Francis Knobel

A La Crosse soldier who went missing during the Korean War almost 65 years ago gets a full military burial Thursday at Arlington National Cemetery.

Francis Knobel was a 20-year-old corporal in the Army’s 31st Infantry Regiment. He was reported missing in December of 1950 at the end of a 17-day battle in North Korea. He was among 154 U.S. troops said to be killed in combat that day.

Last year, with advances in technology, the Department of Defense re-examined records from the U.S. Army’s Central Identification Unit (CIU) in Japan. Human remains were exhumed, analyzed, and identified — using circumstantial evidence, radiographs, and dental comparison.

Knobel will receive several honors posthumously — including the National Defense and Korean service medals, and the Purple Heart.

Nearly 8,000 Americans remain unaccounted for from the Korean War. Remains of 310 have been recovered and identified. Of 174 missing service members from Wisconsin, Knobel is one of only three to be identified. There are 144 troops from Minnesota still unidentified. (From La Crosse Tribune)

Tomah 30 day reform plan ‘good start’

Tomah VA

Tomah VA

The recently announced 30-day plan to reform procedures at the Tomah VA Medical Center is getting some criticism and some praise from Washington lawmakers.

Congressman Ron Kind (D-La Crosse) likes what he sees in the plan, saying it’s a very good start.  “I think it’s very helpful. It’s an important step in the right direction as far as reforming the practice at Tomah VA. There’s going to be a lot more outreach and engagement, not just with staff there, but with the community, the veterans, the family members themselves.”

The Wisconsin Democrat told WSAU the Tomah 30-day plan is just the beginning, and hopes to see this become an example for improving care at other facilities.  “This is an opportunity for us to establish a model of care that’s not only going to enhance the care that our veterans receive at Tomah, but could become a model of the type of care that our veterans need nationwide, and quite frankly, healthcare system wide.”

U.S. Republican Senator Ron Johnson (R-Oshkosh) is critical of the Tomah 30-day plan, saying it’s not enough. Johnson says there are employees at Tomah that are not being held accountable, and they need to be fired. Johnson is also critical of the VA’s Inspector General for a lack of transparency. Johnson chairs the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, and believes these officials should be doing a better job of getting information to them. He also believes the new 30 day plan doesn’t address key issues like helping veterans with post traumatic stress disorder, and it doesn’t fully outline how they intend to manage opiate prescriptions.

Larry Lee, WSAU