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Due to Federal Law, VA Won’t Research Effects of Marijuana on PTSD and Chronic Pain

medical maryjane

By Debbie Gregory.

Due to federal restrictions, the Department of Veterans Affairs will not conduct research on the effectiveness of medical cannabis on post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain.

Although doing so would not be illegal, there would be a lot of red tape to cut through.

The announcement is a huge setback for those who have advocated for medical cannabis to be a potential alternative to narcotic and opioid-heavy treatment plans that many VA patients are enrolled in.

There is a plethora of scientific research establishing medical marijuana as a safe and effective alternative to pharmaceuticals. Perhaps that has contributed to the majority of Americans supporting the legalization of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

Included in that majority are U.S. military veterans and veteran caregivers. According to a recent American Legion poll,  82% of respondents supported the legalization of medical cannabis, and 92% supported expanding research into the medical benefits of the drug.

Additionally, a number of veterans organizations have been pushing for research into the drug as a possible treatment option for many of the ailments that affect veterans, most notably PTSD and chronic pain.

Twenty-nine states, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam have legalized medical cannabis programs

The news that the VA will not conduct research into medical cannabis comes just after the department broadened its guidelines for patients to openly discuss their cannabis use with VA physicians. While it is unlawful for VA doctors to prescribe marijuana as it is a Schedule 1 substance, in states where medical marijuana is legal, VA providers are allowed to discuss marijuana use with veterans and adjust treatment plans as necessary.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Memberships in Veteran Service Organizations on the Decline

legion

By Debbie Gregory.

There appears to be a lack of interest from younger veterans when it comes to joining legacy groups like the AMVETS, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the American Legion.

Membership is certainly on the decline with the deaths of WWII, Korean and Vietnam veterans, and as their membership ages and declines, these organizations need young bloods to maintain the political clout they have built up, and they need to be able to “pass the torch” in order to maintain the ground they have gained.

According to the VFW and American Legion, only about 15 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who are eligible to join their organizations have done so. Don’t these veterans want to be around other veterans?

Of course they do. So why aren’t veterans from more recent conflicts signing up like their parents and grandparents did?

Perhaps the transitioning servicemembers of the Facebook/Twitter/Snapchat/Instagram generation are gravitating towards the groups that they perceive to be a better fit, such as Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the Mission Continues, and Team Rubicon.

Let’s face it, when most young people think of these groups, they don’t picture many of their peers being present.

So what should the legacy organizations do to reach out and attract younger veterans? First of all, they can communicate via email, vs. snail mail. They can make sure that they are as welcoming to female veterans as they are to male veterans.

Perhaps an updated look with a few flat screen televisions and a fresh coat of paint is in order. They can host events that will attract the younger crowd; out with the Bingo night and in with college fairs, career days, and veteran service officer Q&As.

“A lot of these kids really don’t know what the VFW is,” said one VFW Commander, Robert Webber.

Webber said VFW members reach out to newer/younger veterans every time there is a function or they are out in public.

“We explain to them that we are a family-oriented group and we try to help them,” Webber said. “We have a service officer that can help them with paperwork and medical problems.”

If veterans’ organizations like the VFW and the American Legion want to survive the next twenty years, they need to prioritize women, present a united front pulling from the entire population of veterans and tackle charitable efforts together.

Perhaps if they all joined forces as one group, they would have enough experienced officers, personnel, and funding to tackle their biggest issues. Nobody would be left out of the discussion and everyone would have the ability to help.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

 

Merger of VA and DoD Health Systems Being Considered

vatricare

By Debbie Gregory.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides healthcare to veterans through medical centers and clinics owned and run by the federal government, although veterans can also see private doctors through the Choice if VA wait times are too long. The Department of Defense provides healthcare to current servicemembers, retirees and their families through TRICARE,  insurance that is paid for by the government and uses private doctors and hospitals.  But soon, the two may be one and the same.

The VA generally serves older, sicker veterans, while TRICARE’s patients are generally healthier.

VA Secretary David Shulkin has been exploring the option of integrating VA and Pentagon health care. This follows the VA’s planned adoption of utilizing a similar electronic health record (EHR) platform as the Defense Department’s MHS GENESIS.

“VA’s adoption of the same EHR system as DoD will ultimately result in all patient data residing in one common system and enable seamless care between the Departments without the manual and electronic exchange and reconciliation of data between two separate systems,” said Shulkin.

Since an overhaul of VA’s EHR won’t be completed for another seven to eight years, a TRICARE merger would more than likely take at least as long.

News of the plan is worrying various veterans groups. The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, AMVETS and Disabled American Veterans have expressed that a TRICARE merger is likely to be a “non-starter” if the goal is to transform VA care into an insurance plan.

Louis Celli, director of veterans’ affairs and rehabilitation for The American Legion, said outsourcing services away from the current VA system via its medical centers and clinics would be financially unsustainable.

Bob Wallace, the executive director of VFW’s Washington office  said that his organization  would oppose any effort to reduce the VA’s role of providing care for veterans.

What do you think?

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Poll Finds Most Veterans and Military Support Legalization of Medical Marijuana

medical mara

By Debbie Gregory.

Attitudes towards the use of medical marijuana have been undergoing rapid changes. For many people who are in pain, medical marijuana is the only medicine that relieves pain and suffering, or treats symptoms of their medical condition, without debilitating side effects.

There is a plethora of scientific research establishing medical marijuana as a safe and effective alternative to pharmaceuticals. Perhaps that has contributed to the majority of Americans supporting the legalization of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

Included in that majority are U.S. military veterans and veteran caregivers. A recent poll conducted on behalf of the American Legion found that while 82% of respondents supported the legalization of medical cannabis, 92% supported expanded research into the medical benefits of the drug.

It has been argued that medical marijuana can be used to treat or manage the symptoms of a variety of ailments that affect veterans, including chronic pain, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. It has also been thought that cannabis can be helpful in addressing the serious epidemic of veteran suicide.

While it is unlawful for VA doctors to prescribe marijuana as it is a Schedule 1 substance, in states where medical marijuana is legal, VA providers are allowed to discuss marijuana use with veterans as part of comprehensive care planning, and adjust treatment plans as necessary.

Additionally, there is a push to reschedule the drug to a Schedule II or III. That would automatically lift the barriers to research, and allow VA health care providers to immediately prescribe marijuana in states where it is legal.

According to the American Legion’s poll, one in five veterans surveyed consume marijuana “to alleviate a medical or physical condition.”

And it no longer needs to be smoked… medical marijuana is often administered to patients in alternative ways, including inhalers, pills, and even edible baked goods. These means of dispensation have proven to be healthier and sometimes more effective in relieving patients’ pain or discomfort.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

How Veterans & Their Doctors Are Getting Around VA’s Medical Marijuana Policy

medical maryjane

By Debbie Gregory.

Whether medicinal cannabis is legal varies depending on what state you’re in, what medical issue you have, and what form you’re using.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, medicinal marijuana is a Schedule One substance, a drug that has no “accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

As long as the Food and Drug Administration classifies marijuana as a Schedule One, Veterans Affairs (VA) health care providers may not recommend it or assist veterans in obtaining it. With that said, while its use is not permitted on VA grounds, veterans on federal property in a federal rehab program are able to test positive for its use without penalty.  This is an unusual loophole in the VA’s approach to medical marijuana.

Currently, VA doctors cannot prescribe medical cannabis, but in states where medical marijuana is legal, but VA providers can and do discuss marijuana use with veterans as part of comprehensive care planning, and adjust treatment plans as necessary.

Advocates of medicinal marijuana use for veterans believe in its effectiveness in treating chronic pain. And with President Trump declaring the U.S. war on opioids, it makes perfect sense for it to be an alternative. In fact, the president campaigned in support of medical marijuana.

But his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, is asking congressional leaders to undo the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment,  the federal medical-marijuana protections that have been in place since 2014.

Veterans groups say the fastest and most effective way to help veterans get access to treatment is to simply reschedule the drug. That would automatically lift the most onerous barriers to research and allow VA health care providers to immediately prescribe marijuana in states where it is legal.

“We’ve got young men and women with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries coming to us and saying that cannabis works,” said Joe Plenzler, a spokesman for the American Legion.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Advice on Obtaining VA Benefits

abc

By Debbie Gregory.

Most veterans know that if they experience a disabling event while they are serving, they are entitled to VA disability compensation. But the process may be a little more involved than they might first anticipate. Here are some tips to help navigate the process.

The VA will require you to prove you have the condition you are claiming, and that this occurred or was first experienced during service. This can usually be accomplished through a physician’s diagnosis and service records. If the problem wasn’t reported, a buddy or witness statement may suffice.

Channel your inner Sherlock Holmes. Gather as much evidence as you can to support the claim. While the VA will assist you, it’s in your best interest to do the legwork on your own, since no one your case better than you do. Make sure you have a copy of your Official Military Personnel File, and if you don’t, request it from the National Personnel Records Center.

Double check what forms you need to fill out. This is a great time to ask the VA or your Veteran Service Officer for assistance. Their expertise will prevent you from wasting time filling out the wrong forms, and making sure you fill out the ones you need. Stay on top of deadlines and requests for additional information.

If the VA schedules a Compensation and Pension exam for you to meet with a VA examiner, you must show up for the appointment. Failure to do so may cost you your claim.

Don’t underestimate the value of your Veteran Service Officer. Their services are free, and they can help you navigate the system. They can also help you file appeals for denied claims. In addition to State Veteran Affairs Offices, the following organizations also have Veteran Service Officers nationwide:

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Decision Ready Claims – VA To Turn Around Disability Claims in 30 Days or Less

drc

By Debbie Gregory.

The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) has announced the official launch of the Decision Ready Claims (DRC) initiative, a program that should deliver faster claims decisions for veterans.

Veterans who submit their claim under DRC with accredited Veterans service organizations (VSO) can expect to receive a decision within 30 days from the time VA receives the claim. These organizations include Disabled American Veterans, the American Legion, and Veterans of Foreign Wars.

While DRC is currently limited to claims for increased compensation (commonly known as claims for increase), VA’s goal is to expand the types of claims accepted under the initiative.

VSOs will ensure that all supporting evidence (e.g. medical exam, military service records, etc.) is included with the claim submission. This advance preparation by the VSOs allows claims to be immediately assigned to claims processors for a quick decision.

The system has been in the pilot phase since May 1.

Under the DRC process, veterans can opt to do the paperwork legwork themselves ahead of time.

Then, a VSO representative can review the documents to ensure everything is in order. The VSO rep can then mandate additional evidence for the claim if it’s needed before the claim is submitted. Once filed, the VA has 30 days to respond.

The hope is that by shifting the legwork from VA representatives to veterans and VSOs, the claims backlog will be a thing of the past.

Of course, it will be up to each individual veteran to decide whether DRC will work in their case.

“It’s an aggressive pilot program, and we’re going to work with VA to make sure it works and meets the needs of veterans, that’s our top priority,” said Ryan Gallucci, VFW’s director of the national veterans service. “Anyone interested in this program should have an honest conversation with your veteran service officer.”

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

VA Appeals Reform Will Overhaul Appeals Process

backlog

By Debbie Gregory.

Bipartisan reforms to speed up the veteran disability appeals process have been signed by the president. The changes will likely take about 18 months from now.

The appeals reform measure was passed by the Senate before summer recess, and was recently finalized by the House.

The number of backlogged claims in the system has steadily increased over the years. The American Legion and other veterans groups have been working with VA officials for years, advocating for change.

The average wait time for an appeal on a veterans disability claim is more than five years.

The current system, which allows veterans to submit new medical information at any time, resets the clock on the appeals process again and again. The changes create multiple options on how veterans can now have their cases appealed. By waiving the opportunity to submit new evidence, they would receive fast resolution. For those who want to retain those rights, they would be held to a timeline.

Hopefully, the new changes will reduce both backlogs and wait times.

“Together with the VA, veterans service organizations, and other lawmakers, we were able to find a bipartisan compromise to ensure that veterans … receive the benefits they so bravely earned in a timely fashion,” said Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev.

 

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

New Forever GI Bill Unveiled

Colmery

By Debbie Gregory.

It looks like big changes may be on the horizon for the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

The “forever” GI Bill, officially titled the “Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017″ looks to be a broad, permanent bill of rights for student veterans and their families. And it has a pretty good chance of passing through Congress.

Named for Harry W. Colmery, the past American Legion national commander who hand-wrote the original GI Bill in 1944, the proposal contains reforms to benefit Purple Heart recipients, reservists, veterans’ surviving dependents, and victims of for-profit school closures.

If the bill, introduced on July 13th  by House Veteran Affairs Committee Chairman and Republican Rep. Phil Roe, is passed by Congress, it will affect veterans who become GI Bill-eligible after January 1, 2018.

Major changes would include:

  • The elimination of the 15-year “use it or lose it” time limit on veteran education benefits
  • A permanent change to the program’s name- just “GI Bill”
  • The guarantee of full veteran benefits for ALL Purple Heart recipients
  • Help for victims of predatory for-profit schools
  • Assistance for survivors and dependents by extending Yellow Ribbon eligibility to those survivors
  • Changing housing allowances for student veterans to the same BAH as similarly situated active-duty service members

The Student Veterans of America, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the American Legion, Vietnam Veterans of America, Got Your Six, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, and Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors assisted in putting the bill together and readying it for approval.

“This beefed-up Post-9/11 GI Bill recognizes the long service and sacrifice of the one percent of Americans who have voluntarily put their personal lives on hold to fight an unimaginable multi-front war for 16-plus years,” said VFW National Commander Brian Duffy.

What do you think?

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Will VA Choice be Replaced with CARE Plan?

CARE Program

By Debbie Gregory.

Key senators were bolstered by veterans groups to conditionally endorse a plan from VA Secretary David J. Shulkin to replace the current VA Choice program with the Veterans Coordinated Access and Rewarding Experiences (CARE) Program.

Representatives of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans and Paralyzed Veterans of America endorsed Shulkin’s vision to drop Choice and its metrics of wait times and geographic distance, and use clinical need instead to determine whether to refer patients to community care.

Dr. Shulkin’s CARE program would resemble a managed care program, with VA healthcare providers assigned to see their patients, and then deciding whether to treat them inside the VA or refer them to an outside network of private sector care providers under contract to VA.

“When I treat patients,” said Dr. Shulkin, an internist who still sees patients as a VA physician, “I listen to my patients and I understand what their needs are…I think what good doctors and providers do is they recognize it is a joint decision.”

But these same groups adamantly oppose the VA’s plan to fund the new plan by cutting disability compensation, paid through the Individual Unemployability (IU) program,  to more than 200,000 severely disabled veterans, ages 62 and older, who also are eligible for minimum social security benefits.

The Choice program, which allowed veterans to seek private sector healthcare if they reside more than 40 miles from a VA hospital or had to wait longer than 30 days for access to VA care after seeking an appointment, has generally been called a failure.

Ranking Democratic Senator. Jon Tester (MT), called the current Choice plan “a train wreck” that “hasn’t improved access. In fact, it’s made it worse. And in the process, it’s caused a lot of veterans and community [healthcare] providers to lose faith in the VA.”

But the veteran groups have urged Congress and the VA not to fund any of  new program by cutting IU compensation or other benefits.

Shulkin said he heard their “strong concerns” about the IU cuts and would take them “very seriously. Nobody wants to be taking away unnecessary benefits from veterans, and certainly not putting them into poverty,” he said.

But, he added that mandatory VA benefits have climbed by $12 billion in the past two years.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.