Senate Appropriations Committee Votes to Allow VA to Recommend Medical Cannabis
April 14, 2016 | Elizabeth Collins
(Washington, DC) – Today, the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations voted to approve the Veterans Equal Access Amendment (VEAA) to the FY2017 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (MilConVA) Appropriations bill, which sets the budget for the Veterans Administration (VA). The vote this year had record support of 20-10 with Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) joining as new supporters.The bi-partisan amendment was reintroduced by Senators Steve Daines (R-MT) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR).
The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Directive 2011-004, explicitly forbids VA physicians from filling out recommendation forms for state medical marijuana programs or discussing medical marijuana benefits with the veterans in their care. This directive was set to expire on January 31, 2016; however, the policy remains in effect, leaving it up to Congress to take action to fix the problem. Under this policy, veterans who are dependent on the VA for health care are denied equal access to state medical marijuana programs or honest conversations with their doctor. The VEAA would forbid the VA from using any funds to punish physicians who write recommendations or discuss benefits of medical marijuana therapy with their patients. If approved, it will have to be renewed again next year.
Senator Daines spoke out against the current policy during the brief debate, characterizing it as, “a violation of the 10th Amendment against states and the 1st Amendment against veterans speaking freely with their VA doctors.”
With the passage of last year’s VEAA, many veterans in legal medical marijuana states have taken advantage of the opportunity to utilize medical cannabis therapy to treat a host of ailments often incurred through active duty such as chronic pain, PTSD, traumatic brain injury, phantom limb syndrome, cancer, and depression. “I can tell you for certain, with every ounce of my integrity, that without the benefits of medical cannabis, I would not be standing here before you all today, “ states former US Army Captain Eric Gudz. “Medical cannabis saved my life and is a life saving treatment option for those suffering from a host of ailments, not just PTSD.
Scott Murphy, president of Veterans for Safe Access and Compassionate Care, applauded the outcome, “Veterans for Safe Access and Compassionate Care is extremely appreciative for the leadership and compassion shown by those that voted in favor of the MilCon-VA Appropriations bill. Veterans deserve the same health care options as our civilian counterparts. Passage of this bill will begin the process of allowing Veterans to discuss the risks and benefits of medical cannabis with their doctors. It is now up to the House, and the leadership of Paul Ryan, to finally restore the Constitutional Rights Veterans have fought so hard for.“