The therapeutic aid that cannabis provides American veterans has gained enough public traction for the federal government to take notice, but to what extent does the VA manage cannabis related treatments?
“The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is required to follow all federal laws including those regarding marijuana. As long as the Food and Drug Administration classifies marijuana as Schedule I, VA health care providers may not recommend it or assist American Veterans to obtain it . . . American Veteran participation in State medical marijuana program does not affect eligibility for VA care and services.VA providers can and do discuss marijuana use with American Veterans as part of comprehensive care planning, and adjust treatment plans as necessary.” –According to the VA website.
“Some things Veterans need to know about medical marijuana and the VA:
- The use or possession of marijuana is prohibited at all VA medical centers, locations, and grounds. When you are on VA grounds it is the federal law that is in force, not the laws of the state.
- VA clinicians may not recommend medical marijuana.
- VA clinicians may not complete paperwork/forms required for Veteran patients to participate in state-approved marijuana programs.
- VA pharmacies may not fill prescriptions for medical marijuana.
- VA will not pay for medical marijuana prescriptions from any source.
- American Veterans are encouraged to discuss marijuana use with their VA providers.
- VA health care providers will record marijuana use in the Veterans VA medical record in order to have the information available in treatment planning. As with all clinical information, this is part of the confidential medical record and protected under patient privacy and confidentiality laws and regulations.
- American Veterans who are VA employees are subject to drug testing under the terms of employment.”
A United States Army Infantryman deployed once to Iraq, now lives in California with his family. For the past year, the disabled veteran has been using medical marijuana to treat PTSD and chronic migraines. While moving to the West Coast made cannabis readily available for him, he argues that “the situation between cannabis and the federal government is impacting veterans more than any other group.”
Despite the federal policy, it was indeed a military psychologist who, off the record, suggested the disabled veteran try cannabis once he left active duty service. “I had a grade three concussion occur during combative; when I came to, I had a migraine that lasted a week.” He initially set an appointment with the Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) clinic, where a neurologist presented the possibilities of a brain tumor. A series of doctors then prescribed a range of medications that only produced adverse effects. “They put me on an anticonvulsant, an antidepressant, anti-anxiety. Then warned me to watch out for jaundice. I couldn’t keep track of them all.”
When they ran out of medication to prescribe, he was sent to therapy. But after a few meetings, one psychologist confirmed that stress-related migraines of this degree were an absurd diagnosis. It took almost two years of unsuccessful treatments before an appropriate medication was presented for pain management and peaceful sleep. Towards the end of his military contract, the soldier was informally advised to “just smoke weed once you’re out.”
“Now that I’m an American Veteran with access to medical cannabis, I’ve seen a dramatic decrease in chronic migraines. I’ve heard similar stories across the board from my military friends.”
While these American Veterans are getting the help they need, the threat of federal action still overshadows all efforts of returning to a functioning civilian life. “Using cannabis could adversely affect my benefits, and I’m not the only one. Most of my buddies that rely on cannabis are constantly worried about the federal government’s view of it,” says the anonymous veteran.
One of these friends agrees that “It’s still too touchy of a subject to even talking about with the doctor. I’ve gone to the VA with complaints of back pain, which keeps me up at night. That’s a cannabis homerun, but instead, they prescribe a muscle relaxer that makes me useless for a whole day.”
The overuse of painkillers and central nervous system depressants only sets these veterans back further. As long as cannabis is kept out of the discussion, The Department of Veteran Affairs will continue to prescribe heavy medications for a spectrum of injuries and illnesses.
In the meantime, these American veterans remain cautiously optimistic that the VA will move in a progressive direction. “I’ve seen nothing but good things from my personal experience as a veteran who uses cannabis. Smoking before I go out or go to class makes dealing with the differences between being a vet much more tolerable. Not to mention the physical strain from years of being an active duty Infantryman; back and joint pain is easily taken care of with cannabis.”
As a result of success stories like this, veteran service organizations like the American Legion, have begun to press the federal government on cannabis-related policies that affect disabled vets. The 2.2 million-member Legion has been a major advocate for cannabis research and development in recent years. At a news conference in Washington D.C, Legion Executive Director Verna Jones said, “When veterans come to us and say a particular treatment is working for them, we owe it to them to listen and to do the scientific research required.”
If the Food and Drug Administration reclassifies cannabis as containing a potential medical value, VA clinicians could begin incorporating its therapeutic properties into treatments for American veterans; If not for PTSD or chronic pain, then for the mental wear and tear of military service. After having one of the most stressful jobs possible, these Americans deserve to finally relax and just smoke a joint.
Originally posted 2017-12-14 16:20:23.