Congress Blocks Veterans Equal Access Amendment Despite House & Senate Approval

Washington, D.C. - On Thursday, news broke that the Veterans Equal Access Amendment had been stripped from the House Conference Report of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (MilCon-VA) and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2017. The provision was removed from the conference version of the bill, despite passing in the Senate Appropriations Committee 20-9, and on the House floor 233-189. The removal of an amendment to an appropriations bill that has been approved in both chambers is unprecedented and defies explanation.

“Blocking this amendment at the conference committee stage is an assault on democracy and those Americans who risked their lives and health to defend it,” said Michael Liszewski, Government Affairs Director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA). “It’s shocking that House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers would allow a veterans health care provision that won by wide margins in a Senate committee and on the House floor to be stripped from the bill behind closed doors.”

The amendment would forbid the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) from punishing its physicians who discuss the benefits of or recommend medical cannabis (marijuana) in accordance with state law. Currently, VA doctors can be punished by the Administration for recommending medical cannabis under state law, and veterans who rely on the VA for their health care are denied access to state-regulated medical cannabis programs. The amendment would not require VA doctors to fill out recommendation forms or allow anyone to possess medical cannabis on federal property, it simply would open up a path to access state programs for America’s military veterans.

"I am disappointed by a closed-door committee blocking one of the most sensible, bipartisan pieces of legislation in recent years for our veterans,” said Eric Gudz, Captain, former active duty and now IRR, 101st Airborne Division U.S. Army.  Gudz traveled from Davis, CA in April to lobby several House offices with ASA as part of the effort to pass the amendment.

Gudz expressed the disappointment that many veterans and medical cannabis advocates are feeling right now. “State governments are now unable to provide a much needed compassionate solution for their veterans, and I implore those involved with the decision to reach out to their veteran constituency if the tragedy of this outcome is not clearly understood.”

ASA urges that Congress not approve this version of the MilCon-VA appropriations bill and urges President Obama to veto the bill if it makes it to his desk without the Veterans Equal Access Amendment. ASA further urges Chairman Rogers to respect the votes of the House and Senate bodies that approved the amendment by allowing the amendment to stand whenever the next opportunity arrises.

Further Information:

Text of Conference Report of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies and Zika Response and Preparedness Act

Text of Daines-Merkley Amendment to the Senate Appropriations Committee

Text of the House Veteran’s Equal Access Amendment, offered by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR)

ASA blog on House on passage of the Veterans Equal Access Amendment