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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.

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.

Meeting the Healthcare Needs of Those Who Have Served

brownley

By Debbie Gregory.

Ever an advocate for our nation’s veterans, U.S. Rep. Julia Brownley (CA-26) has issued a statement about a provision of the House Republican’s healthcare bill that could hurt veterans and their families:

“We have known for months that the GOP healthcare bill could strip roughly 7 million veterans of eligibility for healthcare tax credit assistance.  Despite warnings from our veterans service organizations, and pleas from veterans across the country, President Trump and Speaker Ryan have recklessly forged ahead despite the consequences,” stated Brownley.  “While I am deeply concerned about many aspects of this bill, the rush to put politics ahead of people, and the impact it could have on our veterans as a consequence, is simply shameful.”

Language in the bill could deny tax credits to any individual who is “eligible” for other healthcare programs, like VA healthcare or TRICARE.  This provision potentially denies 7 million veterans access to healthcare, because though they are technically eligible, they are not currently enrolled in VA healthcare.

Furthermore, on April 25th, Rep. Brownley, along with Rep. Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (PA-05) introduced H.R. 2123, the Veterans E-Health and Telemedicine Support (VETS) Act of 2017.

Under current law, VA doctors can provide treatment via the phone or internet chat services for many routine appointments.  But the rules prohibit physicians from providing those services across state lines, unless both the veteran and the doctor are in federal facilities. The VETS Act of 2017 removes these barriers and allows the VA to provide treatment through physicians free of this restriction.

“As Ranking Member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health, I believe that we need to meet veterans where they are. The rapid growth of technology offers new possibilities for providing timely, quality healthcare that best suits veterans’ needs,” Brownley said.

Veterans would no longer be required to travel to a VA facility, but rather could receive telemedicine treatment from anywhere, including their home or a community center.

Should the VA Advocate the Use of Medical Marijuana?

medicalmarijuana

By Debbie Gregory.

Attitudes towards the use of medical marijuana have been undergoing rapid changes. 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.

The House and the Senate no longer see medical marijuana policy as a hot-button issue. Instead, medical marijuana has become a health care issue.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has voted in favor of legislation that would allow VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients in states where it is legal.

Sponsored by Sens. Steve Daines, R-Montana, and Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, the Veterans Equal Access Amendment allows veterans to discuss all options that are legally available in their state with their VA doctor.”

For veterans dealing with mental health and physical ailments, the opportunity to learn about marijuana treatment would be a game changer. While research about the impact of medical marijuana on mental health is almost non-existent, many believe it can reduce certain PTSD symptoms, including anxiety and flashbacks. Neuroscientists also believe that medical marijuana can assist with depression

While most doctors acknowledge that they would prescribe cannabis to their patients as needed, VA physicians have not been able to discuss the option.

The provision was inserted into the Military and Veterans Construction bill, which the upper chamber unanimously passed. Similar language was included in legislation introduced in the House of Representatives in February by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, but it has stalled in committee.

The VA concedes that some veterans use medical marijuana to relieve PTSD symptoms but questions its effectiveness and suggests the practice might actually be harmful.

Where do you sit on this hot-button issue? Do you think veterans should have access, and do you think it will help or hinder them?

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.