VA Allows Doctors to Discuss Medical Marijuana with Patients

medical mj

By Debbie Gregory.

Advocates of medicinal marijuana use for veterans believe in its effectiveness in treating chronic pain. Now the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has authorizes its physicians and care teams to speak openly with veteran patients about their marijuana use.

Currently, VA doctors cannot prescribe medical cannabis, but thanks to VHA Directive 1315, in states where medical marijuana is legal, VA providers can discuss marijuana use with veterans as part of comprehensive care planning, and adjust treatment plans as necessary.

Veterans enrolled in a state-approved medical cannabis program can discuss their marijuana use so that their doctor can make adjustments to the treatment plan.

The new policy is likened to the VA removing its proverbial head from the sand.

“It not only encourages, but really mandates that their physicians and primary care teams have healthy and in-depth knowledge-based conversations with veterans about cannabis use for whatever ailment their suffering from,” said Lou Celli, the director of national veterans affairs and rehabilitation division at American Legion.

Marijuana remains a Schedule 1 substance — “drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

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.

VA To Make Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Available for PTSD

Hyperbaric Chamber

By Debbie Gregory.

In a continuing effort to treat Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and reduce the number of veteran suicides, the Department of Veterans Affairs has approved hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) to some veterans with PTSD.

In a hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber, the air pressure is increased to three times higher than normal air pressure. Under these conditions, your lungs can gather more oxygen than would be possible breathing pure oxygen at normal air pressure.

It’s suggested that the oxygen-rich environment produced in the brain during a HBOT treatment stimulates the growth of new neurons and neural pathways, although further research is necessary.

HBOT treatment is currently only available to veterans served in the eastern Oklahoma and Northern California VA health care systems. Only veterans who haven’t noticed a decrease in PTSD symptoms from two other, evidence-based treatments are eligible.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized room or tube. HBOT uses pressurized hyperbaric chambers to deliver high oxygen levels.

“There is nothing more important to us than caring for our nation’s veterans, and that care must include finding different approaches that work best for them,” said VA Secretary David Shulkin.

HBOT is normally used to treat carbon monoxide poisoning, decompression sickness,  and wounds that won’t heal. It has also been used for stroke victims, autism, cerebral palsy, cancer, fibromyalgia and lyme disease. Now HBOT is being used on patients with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) as well as PTSD.

The VA intends to use its new research to determine whether hyperbaric oxygen therapy should be made available to more veterans with PTSD, the agency said.

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.

MilitaryConnection.com and VAMBOA Join Forces with America Salutes You & Wall Street Rocks to Present Guitar Legends for Heroes

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MilitaryConnection.com, one of the most comprehensive directories of military and veteran resources on the web, and non-profit trade association VAMBOA, the Veterans and Military Business Owners Association are proud to announce that they have joined forces with America Salutes You and Wall Street Rocks to Present “Guitar Legends for Heroes.”

On Wednesday, November 29th, some of the world’s best guitarists will hit the stage at Terminal 5 in New York City to thank our military, veterans and their loved ones for their sacrifices, while raising funds for the high impact charities that support them.

Co-hosted by country legend Trace Adkins and SIRIUS XM’s Eddie Trunk, the all-star event will feature special performances by Richie Sambora (Bon Jovi), Dave Navarro (Jane’s Addiction), Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top), Nancy Wilson (Heart), Sam Moore (Sam and Dave), Orianthi, Lindsey Ell, Robert Randolph, and Joe Don Rooney (Rascal Flatts)

The concert will air nationally on Tribune Broadcasting, Sinclair Broadcast Group, Hearst Television, Graham Media Group, Gray and Ion television stations on December 23rd.

Charity Recipients benefitting from the music-filled evening include Headstrong, Psych Armor,
The Elizabeth Dole Foundation, Hope for the Warriors, and Warrior Canine Connection.

The concert is made possible by the generous financial support of Presentation Sponsor the Independence Fund, and additional corporate sponsors including American Airlines, Johnson & Johnson, Walgreens, the National Football League, Broadridge and TIBCO.

“We have asked those who serve, past and present, to leave their home and their loved ones to protect our freedoms,” said Debbie Gregory, CEO of MilitaryConnection.com. “The number of men and women who have donned our country’s uniform and served multiple tours of combat duty is the largest in modern American history. We owe them a huge debt, and we can repay it by remembering their sacrifices and providing the resources for them to achieve the American Dream.”

About America Salutes You
America Salutes You is a 501c3 organization created to express our national gratitude to our troops, veterans and their families through an annual nationally broadcasted benefit concert that raises funds for a range of high impact veteran charities.

Lawmakers Want to Reduce the Number of VA Facilities

vava

By Debbie Gregory.

The Department of Veterans Affairs and the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs are taking a hard look at VA facilities across the country to determine which ones have been outlived their usefulness. Many aging and underused facilities could be subject to closure.

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said that the agency is considering a plan to close more than 1,100 facilities across the country, given that the VA continues to allow a larger number of veterans access to private sector health care.

Shulkin told a House hearing that the department has identified 735 underused facilities. There are also 430 empty buildings, most of which were constructed around 90 years ago.

Committee Chairman Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., and Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., the ranking Democrat, want to create a paid commission to recommend which facilities should be closed.  Their bill, the Asset Infrastructure Review Act (AIR) is in its early stages. As it is currently written, the bill would require Shulkin publish the criteria to be used in choosing which facilities to close, modernize or realign in the Federal Register by January 15, which is less than two months away.

Shulkin said the VA and Congress would work together to review buildings for possible closure, possibly using a process like Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), which the Pentagon has used in the past to determine which underutilized military bases should be closed.

But the BRAC process has been controversial, raising concerns among members of Congress about the negative financial impact of closing military bases in their districts.

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.

Alarming Rate of Suicide Among Servicewomen and Female Vets

female veteran

By Debbie Gregory.

Female military veterans run a 250% higher risk than civilian women for suicide, a startling finding that experts say poses disturbing questions about the backgrounds and experiences of women who serve in the armed forces.

Though suicide has become a major issue for the military over the last decade, most research by the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs has been focused on men.

Research regarding women in the military, especially in combat roles, is still a new and emerging area. Though the U.S. military has long provided camaraderie and a sense of purpose to men, it has been a harsher place for women.

Risk factors for female servicemember/veteran suicide may include: deployments in hostile environments, exposure to extreme stress, physical or sexual assault while in the service and service related injuries. In addition, there are also general risk factors such as alcohol or substance abuse, homelessness, financial problems, relationship issues.

The VA’s currently has the following suicide prevention initiatives and resources for women veterans in place:

  • Regional and national residential inpatient programs that either provide treatment to women only or have separate tracks for women and men.
  • Outpatient mental health services through VA medical centers, Vet Centers, community-based outreach clinics and partnerships with other local treatment providers across the country.
  • Evidence-based therapies for PTSD that have been shown to decrease suicidal ideation, available at every VA medical center.
  • Support for treating the effects of military sexual trauma.

Establishing mental health programs that are effective for women veterans will go a long way in ensuring they are receiving the best care possible, hopefully turning this issue around.

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.

The Long Road Home, a Must-See Miniseries

long road

By Debbie Gregory.

The National Geographic miniseries “The Long Road Home,” based on a book of the same name by ABC News Correspondent Martha Raddatz, is the true story of the 2004 deployment of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment out of Fort Hood, Texas to Sadr City, Iraq.

This is the story of the eight-hour battle in Sadr City on April 4, 2004, that followed the ambush of the newly-arrived American platoon. The soldiers, many of them young and inexperienced, were on a peacekeeping mission and weren’t expected to face heavy combat. Told in real time through the eyes of untested soldiers in combat for the first time, the series gives viewers an intimate and unforgettable portrait of what it’s really like to go to war.

The eight part mini-series tells the story of the ambush and the three heroic rescue missions launched to save the platoon. It also focuses on the home front, as wives and mothers waited anxiously for word and drew support from one another.

Instead of it being the low-key peacekeeping mission they were expecting, the deployment ended up being a series of a deadly ambushes and brave rescues, spread out over 80 days of fighting.

The day that came to be known in military annals as “Black Sunday” claimed the lives of eight troop members and injured 60 others.

“The courage I witnessed, the heartache and the survival of spirit both on the battlefield and the homefront, is something I wanted to share with as many people as possible,” said Raddatz.

The series was shot at Fort Hood. Aaron Fowler and Eric Bourquin, who had both been part of the deployments, served as technical advisers.

“The Long Road Home” premiered on November 7th on the National Geographic Channel.

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.

Elizabeth Dole to Chair New VA Veterans’ Family, Caregivers & Survivor Advisory Committee

Liz dole

By Debbie Gregory.

VA Secretary David Shulkin continues to demonstrate his commitment to supporting our nation’s veterans and their caregivers through the formation of the Veterans’ Family, Caregiver, and Survivor Federal Advisory Committee. The committee will be chaired by former U.S. Senator Elizabeth Dole.

Dole is the founder of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation and the Hidden Heroes Campaign, both of which focus on military caregiving.

“Senator Dole is an accomplished and experienced advocate for Veterans’ caregivers,” said Secretary Shulkin. “I am honored that she will Chair this landmark Committee.”

The committee will advise the secretary on matters related to:

Veterans’ families, caregivers, and survivors across all generations, relationships, and Veteran status; the use of VA care and benefits services by veteran’s families, caregivers, and survivors, and possible adjustments to such care and benefits services; veterans’ family, caregiver, and survivor experiences, and VA policies, regulations, and administrative requirements related to the transition of Service members from the Department of Defense to enrollment in VA that impact veterans’ families, caregivers, and survivors; and actors that influence access to, quality of, and accountability for services and benefits for veterans’ families, caregivers, and survivors.

Senator Dole has walked the walk, as she was a caregiver to her husband, former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Dole, a World War II veteran injured in combat.

Committee members were chosen from a diverse group, including family members, caregivers, survivors, veteran-focused organizations, military history and academic communities, the National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs, the Federal Executive Branch, research experts and service providers; and leaders of key stakeholder associations and organizations.

Former Marine Sherman Gillums, the executive director of Paralyzed Veterans of America, will serve as vice chair.

Committee members, in alphabetical order are: Ms. Mary Buckler, Ms. Bonnie Carroll, Ms. Melissa Comeau, Ms. Harriet Dominique, Ms. Jennifer Dorn, Ms. Ellyn Dunford, Dr. Robert Koffman,  Lt. Gen. (U.S. Army, Ret.) Mike Linnington, Mr. Joe Robinson, Ms. Elaine Rogers, Brig. Gen. (U.S. Army, Ret) Dr. Loree Sutton, Mr. Francisco Urena, Ms. Shirley White, Ms. Lee Woodruff, and Ms. Lolita Zinke.

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

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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.