Congress to Vote on Veterans Equal Access Amendment for State Medical Marijuana Programs Congress to Vote on Veterans Equal Access to State Medical Marijuana Programs

April 27, 2015 | Mike Liszewski

This week, perhaps as early as Wednesday, the U.S. House of Represenatives will be voting on the FY2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill, which sets the budget for the Veterans Administration (V.A.). Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Tom Reed (R-NY), and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) are planning to re-introduce the Veterans Equal Access Amendment, which would allow veterans to be able to obtain medical marijuana recommendations from their V.A. physician. Although the amendment failed in 2014, it received 195 YES votes, which at the time was the most any piece of medical marijuana legislation had received in the House.

Last week, an attempt was made in the full Appropriations Committee to add the Amendment to the bill in committee. However, Committee Chair Hal Rogers and others quickly rallied a sharp party line vote (see bottom for vote recap). While this spelled defeat for the Amendment in committee, it does not mean that the Amendment is doomed. To ensure it's success on the House floor, ASA is launching an action alert for members to call and write their House Representatives urging them to Vote YES on the Amendment. 

Under V.H.A. Directive 2011-004, V.A. physicians are explicitly forbidden from being able to fill out recommendation forms for state medical marijuana programs. This means that veterans who are dependent on the V.A. for their health care are denied equal access to state medical marijuana programs.  The VEAA would forbid the V.A. from using any funds to punish physicians who write state-legal medical marijuana recommendations. In doing so, the VEAA would allow veterans to have safe and legal access to medical marijuana in states that allow its therapeutic use under the recommendation of a physician. Veterans with PTSD and chronic pain who rely on the V.A. for their healthcare are not being afforded the same access to state medical marijuana programs as their non-veteran fellow residents. With 22 veterans or more committing suicide each day and an estimated 25 million veterans living with chronic pain, it is unfair to deny them a physician-recommended treatment option that those who did not serve have greater access to.

Here are what veterans are saying about the Veterans Equal Accecss Amendment:

It's important the VA works with veterans and their choice of medicine or treatment. We have already seen the horrors of man-made prescription pills. I have seen it first hand, with my older sister who was also an Army veteran, but addicted to her VA prescribed pills. Those pills would be her demise and would eventually take her life at 30. If the VA would listen to us and stop trying to poison us with pills from a company who wants customers and not cures, we would lose less veterans. I guess the number of 22 veterans a day lost to suicide alone means nothing to the people who are sworn to be there for The people. In retrospect that's, 660 veterans a month, 7920 a year, and within five years we will have lost almost 40,000 to suicide alone. That's enough for a small city. These are hero's not some number on paper. We fought like the men who found this country and we will keep fighting even after our days of a soldier are over. We didn't do it for the glory, but for the ones before us whose deaths will never be for nothing.

--Chad Lozano, US Army Iraq War Veteran, Tropic Lightning

The Veterans Equal Access Amendment will allow for an open line of communication between a veteran and her or his Department of VA care providers In states that have decided to legalize medical cannabis. This is a major first step in allowing veterans equal access to medical cannabis through reestablishing that First Amendment right of freedom of speech between a patient and care provider, a right which has been violated by a major gap in policy and law on the federal level with disabled veterans. With the legalization of medical cannabis, statistics have shown suicide and addiction rates decrease, which are both major plagues among veterans.

--T.J. Thompson, U.S. Navy veteran (1998-2004)

VA doctors and nurses are our "boots on the ground" when it comes to mental health services for our veterans. Having politicians and bureaucrats interfere with VA docs is just like having those same folks in D.C. dictate misguided and irresponsible rules of engagement to field commanders in a combat zone. Unfortunately it is the veteran that pays the price in either case. There is a problem in our society when we refuse to allow nationwide access and communication about a medicine that we know can be a solution to symptoms of trauma of war and we do nothing.

--Paul Culkin, SSG (Ret) U.S. Army EOD 

There is a need for Veterans and VA doctors...to be able to talk freely about more than just marijuana. With regard to the mandatory reporting rules and just a case of severe CYA Veterans soon learn to shut up and not share anything. If it's not getting our benefits curtailed, it's a case of being labeled to worse case a 5150 but no Dr cares about much other than not being the DOC who last saw someone who goes off the reservation. The numbers don't prove out these fears as rational, but there is no rational mechanism nothing that will punish a Dr for being ultra conservative vs the rights of an individual enlisted soldier. In fact, its rewarded.

--Sean Kiernan, Marine Corps Veteran corporal (1990 to 1993 with Security Battalion)

Veterans for Safe Access and Compassionate Care are extremely thankful for the leadership and compassionate by Rep. Blumenauer's and others supporting this Amendment. The passage of the MilCon-VA Appropriates bill will allow Veterans to have the same open dialogue with our doctors as our civilian counterparts have about the risks and benefits of medical marijuana for debilitating conditions. 

As seen in recent studies studies and on CNN documentary Weed 3 it is clear that the American people support national medical marijuana reform. It is unlikely that their intention is to leave suffering Veterans behind. 

--Scott Murphy,  Iraq War veteran, President of Veterans for Safe Access and Compassionate Care

Many men and women returning from serving in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from severe post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury and other major issues resulting from their service to our country. Unfortunately, the majority of these patriots are being prescribed a cocktail of pharmaceutical narcotics by Veterans Administration physicians who have no idea what they're doing, or what affect the drugs will have on their own -- yet alone when combined with others. 

These pharmaceuticals are dangerous, and in many cases they are only serving to exacerbate the problems many veterans struggle with. Many of these veterans are reporting feelings of insomnia, chronic depression, agoraphobia, severe anxiety and panic attacks to name but a few symptoms.

We believe cannabis serves to alleviate much of the symptoms and ailments we suffer from, time and again it has helped many live a more full and productive life. The testimonials of men and women across our country who have benefited greatly from this plant are endless and we want to investigate, scientifically, exactly how the herb works with our bodies to accomplish this.

--Ricardo Pereyda, Iraq War veteran, US Army (2003-2009)

 Veterans Equal Access Amendment Committee Vote, April 22, 2015

VOTE

First Name

Last Name

N

Henry

Cuellar (D)

Y

Sanford

Bishop (D)

Y

Rosa

DeLauro (D)

Y

Sam

Farr (D)

Y

Chaka

Fattah (D)

Y

Mike

Honda (D)

Y

Steve

Israel (D)

Y

Marcy

Kaptur (D)

Y

Derek

Kilmer (D)

Y

Barbara

Lee (D)

Y

Nita

Lowey (D)

Y

Betty

McCollum (D)

Y

Chellie

Pingree (D)

Y

David

Price (D)

Y

Mike

Quigley (D)

Y

Lucille

Roybal-Allard (D)

Y

Dutch

Ruppersberger (D)

Y

Tim

Ryan (D)

Y

Jose

Serrano (D)

Y

Pete

Visclosky (D)

Debbie

Wasserman Schultz  (D) (abstained)

N

Robert

Aderholt (R)

N

Mark

Amodei (R)

N

Ken

Calvert (R)

N

John

Carter (R)

N

Tom

Cole (R)

N

Ander

Crenshaw (R)

N

John

Culberson (R)

N

Charlie

Dent (R)

N

Mario

Diaz-Balart (R)

N

Chuck

Fleischmann (R)

N

Jeff

Fortenberry (R)

N

Rodney

Frelinghuysen (R)

N

Kay

Granger (R)

N

Tom

Graves (R)

N

Andy

Harris (R)

N

Jaime

Herrera Beutler (R)

N

Evan

Jenkins (R)

N

David

Jolly (R)

N

Dave

Joyce (R)

N

Steven

Palazzo (R)

N

Scott

Rigell (R)

N

Martha

Roby (R)

N

Hal

Rogers (R)

N

Tom

Rooney (R)

N

Mike

Simpson (R)

N

Chris

Stewart (R)

N

David

Valadao (R)

N

Steve

Womack (R)

N

Kevin

Yoder (R)

N

David

Young (R)

Photo Caption: Dr. Sue Sisley, veterans, and Americans for Safe Access meeting with White House Office on National Drug Control Policy on March 27, 2015 discussing veterans issues related to marijuana.



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