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VA Debates Taking First Step For Getting Vets Medical Marijuana

A Veterans Affairs (VA) official stated Wednesday that the department is trying to find a way to accommodate veterans who want medical marijuana, and VA physicians who want to recommend it. In states with legal programs, a physician’s recommendation is the first step to obtaining medical marijuana from dispensaries.

At a hearing before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Dr. Carolyn Clancy, the VA’s interim under secretary for health, said VA physicians are barred from recommending marijuana to patients, even in the 23 states where medical marijuana programs exist, Marijuana.com reports. However, Clancy noted that officials are having internal discussions on how to accommodate veterans, since medical marijuana is skyrocketing in popularity as a treatment.

“It’s great that this issue finally seems to be on the V.A.’s radar, but the longer the department and Congress take to sort this out, the longer veterans who served our nation will needlessly suffer,” Tom Angell, Chairman of the Marijuana Majority, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “We need to stop muzzling V.A. doctors and let them talk with their patients about whatever treatment option will work best for them.”

To remedy the problem, Democrats and Republicans have teamed up in the House with Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon to introduce the Veterans Equal Access Act, which effectively protects doctors who recommend marijuana as a treatment to patients.

The legislation is co-sponsored by eight Republicans and eight Democrats. Veterans can technically participate in medical marijuana programs, based on a directive issued by the Veterans Health Administration in 2011. But the fact that VA physicians are still prevented from giving advice or opinions on the drug means that patients are left to their own devices, and as a result, many opt for existing opioid treatment options, even though medical marijuana might be more effective.

The bill states that physicians will be authorized to complete recommendation forms for veterans. During the last session of Congress, Blumenauer tried to introduce the same exact bill, but it failed, receiving neither a hearing nor a vote.

“Republicans are really stepping up on this issue, as evidenced by the list of co-sponsors,” Dan Riffle, Director of Federal Policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, told TheDCNF. “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.”

A recent study published in 2014 found that medical marijuana reduces PTSD symptoms by an average of 75 percent, but researchers emphasized that there’s more work still to be done in the form of a clinical trial. For now, opioids are the preferred treatment for PTSD. Almost one million veterans currently use opioids, and around 500,000 continue beyond the recommended 90 day use period, according to analysis from the American Academy of Pain Medicine. Overdose rates are twice as high as the national average.

“The men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan…deserve every option to treat their wounds, both visible and hidden,” Riffle told TheDCNF. “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. Veterans who can benefit from medical marijuana should not have to turn to the underground market or seek treatment outside of the VA system in order to access medical marijuana.”

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