Doctors with the US Department of Veteran Affairs can encourage conversation about marijuana treatment but they are still prevented from recommended it, according to a new policy announced earlier this month.
“The policy reiterates the department’s long-held position that ‘to comply with Federal laws such as the Controlled Substances Act … providers are prohibited from completing forms or registering Veterans for participation in a State-approved marijuana program.’ ”
In fact, no provision of federal law blocks the department from allowing its doctors to fill out medical cannabis recommendation forms in states where it is legal, even under continued federal prohibition.
In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a federal ruling finding that doctors have a First Amendment right to recommend medical cannabis to patients, as long as they don’t actually provide marijuana.
The only thing standing in the way of government doctors recommending medical cannabis to veterans is the V.A.’s own internal policy, which the department’s Veterans Health Administration just extended with the new directive.
Essentially, patients can discuss with VA doct0rs their need and desire to use cannabis as a treatment, but the patient must find another doctor outside the VA to secure a recommendation.
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Earlier this year, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the Veterans Equal Access amendment, which would allow doctors in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend cannabis in states where it is legal.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), a co-sponsor of the Senate amendment, says it is about time to do something. “We often talk about how our soldiers stand up for us, and we need to stand up for them,” Merkley said.
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Dr. David J. Shulkin, who President Donald Trump appointed VA chief, is the first non-veteran to lead the nation’s veteran health care system. When Trump tapped Shulkin for the post, he said:
“Sadly our great veterans have not gotten the level of care they deserve, but Dr. Shulkin has the experience and the vision to ensure we will meet the health-care needs of every veteran. His sole mandate will be to serve our veterans and restore the level of care we owe to our brave men and women in the military.”Each day, 22 veterans commit suicide — and many of those deaths are attributed to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A disproportionate amount of veterans suffer from opiate addiction. This is largely due to the fact that doctors for the Veterans Administration have over-prescribed them for decades. It’s an epidemic that cries out for a new solution.
“I have been deeply troubled about our inability to adequately deal with our returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) said earlier this year. “A lot of them are suffering from PTSD, chronic pain, traumatic brain injury, and these are all conditions that have been shown to respond to medical marijuana.”
The American Legion urged the US government to reclassify marijuana in September. The organization is the nation’s largest veterans group with more than 2 million members.