New Bill Would Protect VA Doctors Recommending Cannabis
In yet another signal of the eroding federal war against medical marijuana, Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) along with eight bipartisan cosponsors has introduced HR 667: The Veterans Equal Access Act, to make it easier for qualified veterans to access medical marijuana in states where it is legal. The bill is cosponsored by Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Walter Jones (R-NC), Justin Amash (R-MI), Tom Reed (R-NY), Richard Hanna (R-NY), Sam Farr (D-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO) and Dina Titus (D-NV).
Currently, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) specifically prohibits its medical providers from completing forms brought by their patients seeking recommendations or opinions regarding participation in a state medical marijuana program. The Act would authorize VA physicians and other health care providers to provide recommendations and opinions regarding the use of medical marijuana to veterans who live in medical marijuana states.
“Post traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury can be more damaging and harmful than injuries that are visible from the outside,” said Blumenauer. “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.”
Approximately 20 percent of the 2.8 million American veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTS and Depression. In addition, a recent study found that of the nearly one million veterans who receive opioids to treat painful conditions, more than half continue to consume chronically or beyond 90 days. Another study found that the death rate from opiate overdoses among VA patients is nearly double the national average. Yet in states where patients can legally access medical marijuana for painful conditions, often as a less addictive alternative, the hands of VA physicians are tied.
“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 the organization’s Executive 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 move by the legislative arm of the federal government is all the more significant in light of continued stonewalling by the same government’s executive branch on the medical cannabis issue. Veterans For Medical Cannabis Access has already tendered numerous requests through Veterans Affairs bureaucratic channels for changes in policy, but to no avail. More recently, Krawitz has petitioned Attorney General Eric Holder for a change in Justice Department policy, specifically requesting by written letter not to have his request forwarded to the DEA. His letter was answered by the DEA (copy of response appended below).
“The Veterans Equal Access Act introduced by Representative Blumenauer and colleagues will allow my doctor to have an honest conversation about the health effects of marijuana,” said Scott Murphy, President of Veterans for Safe Access and Compassionate Care. “If marijuana is the correct option, I value his opinion. If marijuana is not the correct option, I still value his opinion. I simply believe my fellow veterans should enjoy the same freedoms and rights as our family and friends. The willingness to die for America should not be rewarded with less freedom and worse healthcare options. This unequal protection for our nations heroes is a stain on American values. This bill is a great first step to closing the federal policy gap between civilian healthcare and veteran healthcare options.”
“The Veterans Equal Access Act first and foremost respects our veterans’ first amendment rights to free speech with their doctors,” said disabled U.S. Navy Veteran T.J. Thompson. “When we allow for an open line of communication between patients and doctors, we are able to improve quality of life as well as symptoms. With suicide and prescription drug abuse plaguing our veteran population, it is about time that a member of Congress has decided to stand up for those of us who stood up to protect their rights. We should allow access to a natural herbal remedy that can help — as opposed to too many prescription drugs that can cause harm. I long for a day when I am provided that same freedom of choice at the federal level. I volunteered my life to protect this country, yet due to federal prohibition and interference, my treatment options as a disabled veteran are limited.”
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