The Department of Veteran Affairs estimates that more than 256,820 veterans who served over the last 12 years suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder — a consequence mostly of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Medical marijuana may help with the symptoms, but vets still can’t use it to treat their symptoms, as Veterans Affairs or the White House does not permit it.
While nothing prohibits a veteran from participating in state marijuana programs or receiving treatment at a VA facility, the use of marijuana is not permitted on VA property and no VA pharmacy will dispense it or help pay for it.
The position of the Obama Administration is very clear, even though there is public support for the use of medical marijuana as a treatment for PTSD: “To be clear, pursuant to Federal law marijuana is not allowed on VA property, and no VA-licensed pharmacy may dispense it, regardless of state law.”
More importantly, the VA will not complete state required forms that would allow a veteran to become part of a State marijuana program. The VA’s policy matters to the veteran, because it’s a broken promise made more than nearly 148 years ago, by President Lincoln, in his 2nd Inaugural Address, and reaffirmed in 1959 in the motto of The Department of Veterans Affairs: “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan”
Cost is huge factor that confronts veterans in obtaining medical marijuana. With it not being prescribed or paid for by the VA, as all other medication is, vets have no choice but to resort to the black market. To a place that is as familiar to them as the battlefield is to the dealer. This unfamiliarity often times results in rip offs, even arrests and trips through the court system.
Iraq veteran, Sean Azzariti sn’t surprised by the VA’s policy.”It’s frustrating that they take such a stand but, its not surprising it’s the VA, Azzariti said. “It’s disheartening, but nothing they say will deter me from using medical marijuana.”
A policy for veterans participating in a State-approved marijuana program is provided in the two-page VA report, Access to Clinical Programs for Veterans Participating in State – Approved Marijuana Programs:
“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,” according to the memo. “While patients participating in State marijuana programs must not be denied VHA services, the decisions to modify treatment plans in those situations need to be made by individual providers in partnership with their patients. It is VHA policy to prohibit VA providers from completing forms seeking recommendations or opinions regarding a Veteran’s participation in a State marijuana program.”
The report makes clear that the VA will not provide or pay for medical marijuana through a state program, and any veteran who admits to using medical marijuana to VA staff will have that information recorded in their patient records as non-VA medication.
To fulfill the promise made by Lincoln to those serving in uniform the VA needs to immediately stand up to the Obama administration, end the prohibition on medical marijuana and allow it to be part of a veteran’s treatment plan. They also need to allow all VA providers to sign required state medical marijuana programs paperwork and develop relationships and policies with dispensaries in states with approved medical marijuana programs. In the long-run, we need to provide methods for veterans in states without medical marijuana programs to access medical marijuana.
Toke of the Town contributor Steven W. Giles is a Vietnam Veteran, serving in the United States Coast Guard. He is an advocate for veteran medical marijuana rights.