Federal Bill Introduced to Overturn Ban on Veterans Affairs Physicians Recommending Marijuana
By Americans for Safe Access
“Veterans Equal Access Act” would allow VA physicians to discuss medical marijuana with their patients without federal censure
WASHINGTON, DC — U.S. House Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), along with ten bipartisan Congressional cosponsors introduced the “Veterans Equal Access Act” (VEAA) today, marking a concerted federal effort to allow our country’s veterans to become medical marijuana patients in states where it’s legal. The VEAA would simply allow Veterans Affairs (VA) physicians to discuss and recommend medical marijuana to their patients, a right enjoyed by physicians outside of the VA system.
“Post traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury are just as damaging and harmful as any injuries that are visible from the outside,” said Blumenauer, the bill’s author. “Sometimes even more so because of the devastating effect they can have on a veteran’s family. We should be allowing these wounded warriors access to the medicine that will help them survive and thrive, including medical marijuana, not treating them like criminals and forcing them into the shadows. It’s shameful.”
The VEAA is cosponsored by a balanced mix of ten members on each side of the aisle, as well as a range of members from states that have, and still have not, legalized marijuana for medical use: Dina Titus (D-NV), Justin Amash (R-MI), Paul Broun (R-GA), Walter Jones (R-NC), Thomas Massie (R-KY), Sam Farr (D-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), Steve Stockman (R-TX) and Steve Cohen (D-TN).
In 2011, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) issued a directive which said, “VHA policy does not administratively prohibit Veterans who participate in State marijuana programs from also participating in VHA substance abuse programs, pain control programs, or other clinical programs where the use of marijuana may be considered inconsistent with treatment goals.” However, in addition to giving wide discretion to continue discrimination against veterans, the policy also forbids VA physicians from issuing medical marijuana recommendations to their patients.
For many veterans, their VA physician is their primary care physician and they have no need to go outside of the VA system for health care. In fact, since more than a million U.S. veterans are at risk of homelessness due to poverty, they don’t have the option to pay for private physicians in order to meet their health care needs. As a result, veterans are either denied critical pain medication and other pharmaceuticals because of their medical marijuana use, or they are forced by their VA physicians to go without an important and adjunct therapy.
“Millions of Americans suffer from PTSD and chronic pain, but our veterans are even more adversely affected by these conditions, and yet we fail to treat them with the same level of respect,” said Mike Liszewski, Government Affairs Director with Americans for Safe Access, the country’s leading medical marijuana advocacy group. “Veterans must be given the same rights and health care options that we give other Americans, especially where medical marijuana is concerned.”
Researchers were granted permission earlier this year to study the effects of medical marijuana on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). However, soon after, the University of Mississippi, the sole supplier of research-grade cannabis in the U.S., said it was unable to provide the requested strains, causing delays in the research. More recently, in June, the study hit another snag after the lead researcher, Dr. Sue Sisley, was abruptly fired by the University of Arizona.
In March, the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs published a study that found participants who used inhaled marijuana reported an average of 75 percent reduction in PTSD symptoms.