As the wife of an Army veteran, I can’t tell you enough how thankful I am to the men and women of our country who have made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure our democratic freedoms at home. At the same time though, I also can’t tell you enough how frustrated I am with how veterans (my spouse included) continue to receive sub-par (and sometimes non-existent) health care from an overly bureaucratic and dysfunctional Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”). And it is downright shameful how veterans are being denied access to cannabis due to backwards VA policies and antiquated federal drug laws.
Though medical marijuana isn’t considered a viable medical treatment option by the VA, opioid prescriptions and abuse run rampant amongst VA patients. Oregon Congressman Earl Blumaneur has doggedly sought to expand the ability of VA physicians to recommend cannabis for medical use to their veteran patients, and his website presents the following stark statistics on our veterans:
Approximately 20 percent of the 2.8 million American veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD and Depression. In addition, a recent study found that of the nearly one million veterans who receive opioids to treat painful conditions, more than half continue to consume chronically or beyond 90 days. Another study found the death rate from opiate overdoses among VA patients is nearly double the national average.
VA physicians are barred from even talking about medical marijuana with their patients because marijuana is still a federally illegal schedule 1 controlled substance. However, on May 19th, Congress voted to expand access to medical cannabis for veterans in states where it’s legal. The House of Representatives voted 233–189 in favor of the Veterans Equal Access Amendment and the Senate approved its version of essentially the same appropriations bill. Together, these votes mean the federal government is now prohibited from spending federal money to punish VA physicians for talking about or recommending MMJ to their patients.
The House Amendment not only allows VA physicians to discuss cannabis with veterans in MMJ states, but it also allows those physicians to recommend medical cannabis to veterans in those states. The Senate bill language also provides that the “VA would be prohibited from using funds to ‘interfere with the ability of veterans to participate in medicinal marijuana programs approved by states or deny services to such veterans.'”
Unfortunately, it’s not a done deal that vets will get expanded access to MMJ as both the Senate and House appropriation bills are awaiting concurrence votes to send the legislation to President Obama to be signed into law. We are hopeful these bills will be successfully reconciled and that President Obama will do right by veterans approving some version of the Veterans Equal Access Amendment.
Our veterans deserve this.