U.S.: Blumenauer To Offer Amendment To Remove Restrictions Preventing VA From Recommending Marijuana
When the U.S. House of Representatives this week is expected to consider the FY 2016 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations bill, Congressman Earl Blumenauer of Oregon plans to offer an amendment to make it easier for qualified veterans to access medical marijuana.
Currently, the Veterans Administration (VA) specifically prohibits its medical providers from completing forms brought by their patients seeking recommendations or opinions regarding a Veteran’s participation in a state medical marijuana program. Congressman Blumenauer’s amendment ensures that no funds made available to the VA can be used to implement this prohibition, which would, in effect, strike it down.
The amendment is currently co-sponsored by Representatives Tom Reed (R-NY), Sam Farr (D-CA) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA).
“While there is no single approach to aiding our nation’s veterans, medical marijuana is proven to help in treating post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries frequently suffered by veterans,” said Congressman Blumenauer. “States are listening to their residents on the benefits of medical marijuana, including veterans, and are changing their laws.
"It is unacceptable for our wounded warriors to be forced out of the VA system to simply seek a recommendation on whether or not medical marijuana is a good treatment option," Blumenauer said. "We should not be preventing access to medicine that can help them deal with these injuries to survive and thrive. I encourage my colleagues to show compassion to our veterans and pass this amendment.”
Thirty-six states, the District of Columbia and Guam have passed laws that provide for legal access to medical marijuana in some form. As a result, well over one million patients across the country, including many veterans, now use medical marijuana at the recommendation of their physician to treat conditions ranging from seizures, glaucoma, anxiety, chronic pain and nausea.
There are also nine states and the District of Columbia that now allow physicians to recommend medical marijuana for the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS), due to a growing body of anecdotal evidence suggesting that marijuana offers relief when nothing else has and can be a more effective alternative to other and sometimes addictive prescription drugs.
In February, Congressman Blumenauer also introduced H.R. 667, Veterans Equal Access Act, to address this important issue. The bill is cosponsored by Representatives Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Walter Jones (R-NC), Justin Amash (R-MI), Tom Reed (R-NY), Richard Hanna (R-NY), Sam Farr (D-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO) and Dina Titus (D-NV).
“The Veterans Equal Access amendment will allow for an open line of communication between a veteran and her or his Department of VA care providers in states that have decided to legalize medical cannabis,” said U.S. Navy Veteran T.J. Thompson. “This is a major first step in allowing veterans equal access to medical cannabis through reestablishing that First Amendment right of freedom of speech between a patient and care provider, a right which has been violated by a major gap in policy and law on the federal level with disabled veterans.
"With the legalization of medical cannabis, statistics have shown suicide and addiction rates decrease, which are both major plagues among veterans,” Thompson said.
“Veterans for Safe Access and Compassionate Care is extremely thankful for the leadership and compassion by Rep. Blumenauer," said Scott Murphy, president of Veterans for Safe Access and Compassionate Care. "The passage of this amendment to the MilCon-VA Appropriations bill would allow Veterans to have the same open dialogue with our doctors as our civilian counterparts have about the risks and benefits of medical marijuana for debilitating conditions.”
“As seen in recent studies and on the CNN documentary Weed 3, it is clear that the American people support national medical marijuana reform," Murphy said. "It is unlikely that their intention is to leave suffering Veterans behind.”
“Veterans with PTSD and chronic pain who rely on the VA for their healthcare are not being afforded the same access to state medical marijuana programs as their non-veteran fellow residents,” said Michael Liszewski, Government Affairs director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA). “With 22 veterans or more committing suicide each day and an estimated 25 million veterans living with chronic pain, it is unfair to deny them a physician-recommended treatment option that those who did not serve have greater access to.”
“The gag rule stopping VA physicians from discussing medical marijuana with vets must be eliminated,” said Michael Collins, policy manager at Drug Policy Alliance's Office of National Affairs. “Vets should have the right to talk to their doctors about this vital treatment. The current rule violates the doctor-patient relationship as well as the First Amendment.”
Photo of Rep. Earl Blumenauer: KATU