U.S.: Members of Congress Tell VA To Allow Veterans Medical Marijuana
By Steve Elliott
A broad group of legislators from both parties on Wednesday sent a letter to the Veterans’ Administration (VA) demanding a change in policy to allow veterans to access medical marijuana. Currently, veterans are prevented from having full conversations about medical marijuana with VA doctors, and the same VA physicians are prohibited from recommending medical marijuana, even in states where medical marijuana is legal.
“Vets have served their country, and the least we can do is give them the care they require,” said Michael Collins, deputy director of National Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “It is shameful that the VA prevents veterans from accessing a treatment for pain relief and PTSD.”
“Current VA policy is doing a disservice to veterans by preventing their doctors from exploring all possible treatment options," said Robert Capecchi, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). "We trust VA physicians to prescribe painkillers and other prescription drugs that are far more addictive and infinitely more lethal. Why can’t we trust them to recommend medical marijuana to the patients who they believe could benefit from it?
“We applaud these senators and representatives for standing up for our nation’s veterans," Capecchi said. "We hope the Department of Veterans Affairs will act compassionately and follow their recommendation. It’s time for the VA to stop interfering in the doctor-patient relationship when it comes to medical marijuana.”
Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Steve Daines (R-MT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Tina Titus (D-NV) have spearheaded the letter, which is signed onto by many other legislators from both chambers and both sides of the aisle.
Bipartisan support for marijuana reform has grown in the House and Senate in recent years. Last year, the Senate saw the introduction of the first ever comprehensive medical marijuana bill – the CARERS Act – led by Sens. Gillibrand, Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY).
The Senate passed several marijuana-related amendments, including one that would allow vets to access medical marijuana. The House also passed several amendments, including one to protect state medical marijuana programs.
Studies have shown that medical marijuana can help treat post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury, illnesses typically suffered by veterans. Through a directive that is set to expire at the end of this month, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), however, specifically prohibits its medical providers from completing forms brought by their patients seeking recommendations or opinions regarding participation in a state medical marijuana program.
This not only hurts veterans -- it treats them differently than non-veterans who see doctors outside of the VA.
“As a disabled United States Air Force veteran, I need to be able to see my VA doctor and have an honest conversation, where my doctor feels free to gain knowledge now available through continuing medical education and relay that information to me in writing even, if that very documentation is what I need to participate in a state medical marijuana program,” said Michael Krawitz, executive director for Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access.
Despite the expiration of the directive at the end of the month, the current policy will remain in place until the VA issues a new directive.
“We have worked to ensure that our veterans have the care they have earned and deserve," the Senators and Representatives write. "That means allowing veterans to have full and frank discussions with their doctors without the fear of losing benefits.”
“It also means allowing VA doctors to provide opinions and recommendations to their patients in states where medical marijuana is legal," the letter reads. "Congress has taken initial steps to alleviate this conflict in law and we will continue to work toward this goal.
"However, you are in a position to make this change when the current VHA directive expires at the end of this month," the Senators and Representatives wrote. "We ask that you act to ensure that our veterans’ access to care is not compromised and that doctors and patients are allowed to have honest discussions about treatment options.”
“Congress has taken initial steps to alleviate this conflict in law and we will continue to work toward this goal,” the Senators and Representatives wrote. “However, you are in a position to make this change when the current VHA directive expires at the end of this month. We ask that you act to ensure that our veterans’ access to care is not compromised and that doctors and patients are allowed to have honest discussions about treatment options.”
Here is a link to the full letter: http://www.drugpolicy.org/sites/default/files/McDonald_012116.pdf
Graphic: Disabled Veterans