U.S. House Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and eight bipartisan Congressional cosponsors on Tuesday introduced the “Veterans Equal Access Act,” marking a concerted federal effort to allow our country’s veterans to become medical marijuana patients in states where it’s legal.
The bill, which is modeled after similar legislation introduced in November, 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 can be more damaging and harmful than injuries that are visible from the outside,” said Rep. Blumenauer in a prepared statement. “And they can have a devastating effect on a veteran’s family. We should be allowing these wounded veterans 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 Veterans Equal Access Act is cosponsored by a balanced mix of eight members on each side of the aisle, including Representatives Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Walter Jones (R-NC), Justin Amash (R-MI), Tom Reed (R-NY), Richard Hanna (R-NY), Dina Titus (D-NV), Sam Farr (D-CA) and Jared Polis (D-CO).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, a 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.”
“Veterans For Medical Cannabis Access applauds Congressman Blumenauer for standing up for the doctor-patient relationship by re-introducing the Veteran’s Equal Access Amendment,” said Veterans for Medical Cannabis director Michael Krawitz. “In every state of our union, disabled United States military Veterans stand to gain from this legislation because every veteran deserves the best medical care. This requires an open discussion of all treatments available. We trust our doctors to prescribe morphine; we should also trust them to appropriately recommend cannabis.”
“The men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have made tremendous sacrifices for our country,” said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). “They deserve every option available to treat their wounds, both visible and hidden. If VA doctors are confident that medical marijuana would improve their patients’ quality of life, they should be able to recommend it to them in states where it’s legal.”
“Republicans are really stepping up on this issue, as evidenced by the list of co-sponsors,” Riffle said. “Medical marijuana is becoming a bipartisan issue on Capitol Hill, which makes sense given the level of public support behind it. This isn’t about being liberal or conservative — it’s about being sensible and compassionate.”
Researchers were granted permission last year to study the effects of medical marijuana on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, the study has been plagued with setbacks, including the University of Mississippi, the sole supplier of research-grade cannabis in the U.S., saying it was unable to provide the requested strains, as well as the untimely and questionable firing of lead researcher Dr. Sue Sisley from the University of Arizona.
A study published this month in the Annals of Epidemiology found that the suicide rate among veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan is 50 percent higher than the national average. A study published last year in the American Journal of Public Health found that in states that passed medical marijuana laws there was a subsequent statistically significant reduction in suicide rates.
In March of last year, 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.
For More Information
Veterans Equal Access Act: http://www.safeaccessnow.org/veterans_equal_access_act