Feb 052016
 February 5, 2016
operation overmed veterans medical marijuana

(image via operation overmed)

By Phillip Smith

On Wednesday, a group of 21 US senators and representatives sent a letter to the Department of Veterans Affairs calling on it to allow VA doctors to discuss and recommend marijuana as medicine in states where it is legal.

The bipartisan effort was led by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Steve Daines (R-MT), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Dina Titus (D-NY), and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). All represent medical marijuana states.

Under current VA policy, embodied in VHA Directive 2011-004, which expires Sunday, VA doctors are prohibited recommending marijuana as a treatment option even in legal states. This discourages patients and doctors from being honest with each other.

“According to the current directive, VA providers are prohibited from completing forms seeking recommendations or opinions regarding a veteran’s participation in a state-sanctioned marijuana program. This policy disincentivizes doctors and patients from being honest with each other,” the solons wrote. “Congress has taken initial steps to alleviate this conflict in law and we will continue to work toward this goal. However, you are in a position to make this change when the current VHA directive expires at the end of this month. We ask that you act to ensure that our veterans’ access to care is not compromised and that doctors and patients are allowed to have honest discussions about treatment options.”

If patients can’t get a recommendation from their VA docs and thus can’t access dispensaries, they would be tempted to go elsewhere for recommendations, to doctors “likely far less familiar with their symptoms and medical history,” the solons wrote.

Noting that there has been a “sea change” in the legal framework around marijuana since the directive was issued in 2011, they asked that “upon the directive’s expiration, any new directive remove barriers that would interfere with the doctor-patient relationship in states that have chosen to legalize marijuana for medical purposes.”

But without a new directive, even though the old one is expiring, it will be the status quo at the VA, said Michael Krawitz, a US Air Force veteran and executive director of Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access. Krawitz participated in the process that led to the production and distribution of the directive.

“VA Directives remain in effect with full force even after expiration unless they are officially replaced or rescinded,” he said. “Although I can understand that patients might not know that and might get uneasy about the expiring directive, but in practicality there should be no change in clinical practices caused by the expiration.”

While VA patients could be spooked by the expiration, the status quo is unacceptable, said Dr. Sue Sisley, MD, in clinical psychiatry and internal medicine, who has two decades of experience treating veterans and who is set to do a pilot study on medical marijuana and PTSD for veterans.

“I’ve worked with veterans all over the country who are dealing with severe and chronic, debilitating medical problems,” she said. “They just want the treatment that is going to help them the most, with the least side effects. I have seen firsthand the dramatic improvement so many veterans have had while taking cannabis. Not only have they experienced relief from problems such as PTSD, chronic pain, and migraines, but many of them have also been able to break their addiction to more dangerous drugs, such as opioids and benzodiazepines.”

VA staff physician Deborah Gilman, MD, said current VA policy forces physicians to ignore the science if it conflicts with policy.

“Unlike private practice physicians, VA physicians are under a gag order regarding discussing marijuana with patients,” she said. “In other settings, doctors can be honest about their medical opinions regarding treatment options, based on science. In the VA, an administrator can write policy that you can’t disagree with without losing your job. Veterans are fearful of losing either their medical benefits or their access to health care if they acknowledge using marijuana. This causes a VA doctor to give you a medical opinion based on the VA regulation, not on the science. I knew many VA doctors whose professional opinion was that cannabis might help some of their patients, but they could never say so in their office or in public.”

“There is nothing more sacred in healthcare than the doctor-patient relationship,” said Sisley. “Right now we are seeing interference with that coveted relationship. No government policy should come between a doctor and their patients. The only people who should be making medical decisions for veterans are their physicians, not a bureaucrat and not a law enforcement official. These men and women have sacrificed so much for their country. It’s only fair that they get the care that they deserve, and have access to the whole range of treatment options.”

For Krawitz, it’s about getting health care he and countless other vets deserve.

“I suffer from a combination of internal injuries and broken bones leading me to be a perfect candidate for cannabis as an adjunct pain treatment,” he explained. “I need to be able to go in and see my VA doctor and have a honest conversation where my doctor feels free to gain knowledge now available through continuing medical education and relay that information to me in writing even if that is the very documentation is what I need to participate in a state medical marijuana program.”

Now it’s up to Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald. He’s heard from Congress, he’s heard from patients, he’s heard from doctors and scientists. We’ll see if he’s listening.

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  35 Responses to “Will The V.A. Let Doctors Recommend Medical Marijuana To Veterans?”

  1.  

    I give Obama a B on recreational cannabis and a D- or F on medical. His recent announcement that he’s washed his hands on rescheduling cannabis is the last straw.
    He has failed patients miserably and it is a major and permanent blot on his record. He failed people who needed his help the most.

    •  

      If you really feel the need to blame a President rather than congress, start with Nixon, followed by Reagan.

      •  

        Everything I said about Obama and medical marijuana applies to Congress too. They get a worse grade than he does on rec use.

        Damn right I feel the need to attack Obama on this. For some reason he just doesn’t take the issue of medicinal cannabis dead seriously, and now he’s got blood on his damn hands, as his administration keeps making the ever more risible claim that cannabis has no medicinal use, and the equally obnoxious claim that it has high potential for abuse, confusing it with the drug served at White House social events.

        •  

          I don’t think it’s complicated. As the first black president, he does not want legalizing cannabis listed as part of his legacy. The country is probably ready, but I’m not sure there are any presidential candidates that would promote it actively, although either Democrat would probably keep quiet and let congress reschedule it.

          •  

            The country is certainly ready for legalization of medical marijuana, support is at about 80%. And the medical needs of serious ill patients just cannot be held hostage to any sort of political calculation. Woe to everyone who is standing in the way of this basic human right.

          •  

            If he didn’t want it as part of his legacy he shouldn’t have used it as a re-election rhetoric ploy that he never intended to pursue.

          •  

            Bernie Sanders has the sense of justice and courage to say that as president he would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances List, not just rescheduling it.

            Sanders is the first presidential candidate, since prohibition began who, who has said he would legalize cannabis at the Federal level; allowing the states to go forward on legalization of cannabis.

          •  

            If Bernie wins if he can get the Congress to do ANYTHING about freeing cannabis and if he will indeed do as he says. Been stung by too many blowhard politicians to take any of them at face value. Action, real action on cannabis and I’ll get behind the positive move. Mean while I’ll burn one for Bernie but not vote for him yet.

          •  

            He’s not going to lift a finger because he has 3 females at home dishing out heaps of peer pressure. No skin off his nose if it’s legal or not since he knows it will be eventually, so why take any risk?

      •  

        The current one promised to reschedule it and has once again backtracked, but the ones you mention never said that, therefore they never broke the promise.

      •  

        Let’s not just name Republican president’s. EVERY president from 1937 on has blood on his hands.

        •  

          Agreed. And every Congress. But 3 things make Obama’s behavior particularly hard to take: The scientific studies have been accumulating that confirm what was already totally clear, that cannabis is effective medicine, he made a point of promising to be guided by science in making policy, and public opinion has become ever more overwhelmingly in favor of MMJ. I’m surprised, disappointed and very angry about his and Congress’s lack of compassion for seriously ill patients.

          •  

            I to am sad about the Obama position on cannabis. I have a medical background and have read the literature. There is overwhelming evidence that this plant is a gift from God (what ever God you believe in).

        •  

          You know your history, tell’em bro! No one government entry, since Anslinger’s smear tactics, has had the guts to stand up for what’s true and right for fear of being shunned or losing their political clout! Pussies! Finally, Bernie Sanders just might get the chance to do what no other president had the balls to say or do. He speaks his mind and and fears not what the status quo thinks because he speaks from his heart rather than a pre-written referendum from Washington DC!!!

  2.  

    Cannabis prohibition has been a masterpiece in the art of brainwashing. Since the armed forces use brainwashing as a technique on their recruits (never show weakness, drug users are weak), it compounds the idiocy of prohibition and the unlikely hood that the VA will ever get their heads outta their asses on this.

    •  

      You’ve obviously never served in the military, otherwise you would know that brainwashing is not a component of training.

      •  

        No, I never served, but my father, uncle and a cousin of a cousin did. When you are told that it is “unmanly”, or “weak” or “un-American” or “unlike a marine” to admit you have a problem, admit you have a weakness, admit that you are human and admit that you need cannabis to treat the disease that the military gave you (PTSD), that is called “brainwashing”. Deal with it Denny.

        •  

          I am dealing with it every day, but your second hand information is either bogus or significantly exaggerated.
          Attempting to tell a vet how they were treated or how the military actually functions when you’ve never worn a uniform is offensive.

          •  

            You are implying that my father, uncle and my cousin’s cousin are full of shit. That is offensive. In the case of my cousin’s cousin, I WARNED HIM before he decided to join the marines that they would brainwash him. We used to get along great. But when he came home, all of a sudden I was the hippie and he was the family hero. This was a quiet, humble kid. When he came home from Iraq he was an angry, drunken monster who REFUSED to ask for treatment with cannabis – even though we had smoked together before he joined the service – he REFUSED to ask because “1) He would be viewed as “weak” for asking for help 2.) Pot was illegal, so he could never ask to be treated with it NO MATTER WHAT the benefits. It was better to become an alcoholic. 3) He was a “marine” and Marines don’t ask for help. They tough it out.” These were his own words. That is brainwashing.

          •  

            I didn’t imply anything, and as usual you took my words and twisted them into something I didn’t say.
            What I said was that I deal with it every day, referring back to the PTSD you mentioned.
            I would not and did not assume anything about your former service relatives.
            If you want to argue about the military you’re drastically out of your element and should pick a topic in which you have some first-hand experience.
            Otherwise, keep your insipid comments to yourself because all you’re doing is embarrassing yourself and annoying actual veterans.

          •  

            You called my information “second hand”. That implies that my source of information (my father, my uncle and my cousin’s cousin) was “bogus”. And you are wrong in implying that. The only veterans I might be annoying are the brainwashed, which is totally understandable and the reason why I work as an advocate for the legalization of marijuana and so that ALL VETERANS may be allowed to use it if they wish in states where it is medicinally legal right now.

          •  

            The more you rant the more misinformation you spew.
            From a legal perspective, second hand information is that obtained from an external source and not experienced first hand.
            An advocate, really?
            The fact that you’re ineffectively attempting to denigrate me only enhances your ineptness and inability to effectively and meaningfully communicate.
            I’ve stated that I’m a vet with PTSD who relies on cannabis for anxiety relief and symptom control, yet you imply that I’m brainwashed and a non-supporter of legalization.
            This is typical of people who believe they need to control the way everyone thinks to assure a lockstep mindset as automatons.
            Fortunately, the majority of people still have the right to believe or not believe a myriad of things in life, and that’s a healthy way for a free society to function.

          •  

            The more I “rant”????
            A “legal” perspective???
            Yes, an advocate. What part of that did you miss?
            Your opinion.
            You never stated your were using cannabis. Who is trying to denigrate whom?
            Point your finger at me and three pointing right back at you. Hope you get the help you need and thanks for your service, you brainwashed pawn of the military-industrial complex.

          •  

            I absolutely stated that I use cannabis for my PTSD, but apparently you missed it during one of your misguided rants.
            If you’re an advocate it’s no wonder why legalization and rescheduling aren’t a reality.
            Anyone merely curious about cannabis would surely be turned off by your attacks on someone who actually supports it.
            Nice work, at least you’re competent at something, turning people off.
            I sent your pathetic comments to some vet buddies who are also struggling with PTSD, so hang on…

          •  

            No you did not. Go back and re read your posts.

          •  

            Here you go, my reply post is directly under yours and has been in that spot for hours:

            You called my information “second hand”. That implies that my source
            of information (my father, my uncle and my cousin’s cousin) was “bogus”.
            And you are wrong in implying that. The only veterans I might be
            annoying are the brainwashed, which is totally understandable and the
            reason why I work as an advocate for the legalization of marijuana and
            so that ALL VETERANS may be allowed to use it if they wish in states
            where it is medicinally legal right now.

            Reply

            Share ›

            Denny

            1Bugler1

            2 hours ago

            The more you rant the more misinformation you spew.
            From a legal perspective, second hand information is that obtained from an external source and not experienced first hand.
            An advocate, really?
            The fact that you’re ineffectively attempting to denigrate me only enhances your ineptness and inability to effectively and meaningfully communicate.
            I’ve stated that I’m a vet with PTSD who relies on cannabis for anxiety relief and symptom control, yet you imply that I’m brainwashed and a non-supporter of legalization.
            This is typical of people who believe they need to control the way everyone thinks to assure a lockstep mindset as automatons.
            Fortunately, the majority of people still have the right to believe or not believe a myriad of things in life, and that’s a healthy way for a free society
            to function.

          •  

            Go back further, to the beginning of MY THREAD. You never mentioned using cannabis until the END of the thread.

          •  

            The fact is, I posted it and you missed it, so once again your allegation was totally false.
            No wonder the movement is floundering, with people like you presumed to be advocating for it anyone attempting to become more informed would only be turned off and repulsed by your vicious remarks.
            Fortunately, there are far more people out there making a serious effort to move it forward without alienating those who are already on board with it and the ones who are still in the curious learning stage..

          •  

            Show me where you posted it. Show me what I missed. Nothing, twat! Fuck off!

          •  

            So you are the guy attempting to beat up on my buddy who is suffering with PTSD. You owe him an apology dirt bag,

            He made the post you accused him of not making but you didn’t see and tried to blame it on him.
            You are pathetic and if you actually work as an advocate you must be starving because you suck at it.
            Let’s see how well you stand up against a few vets, go ahead and run your mouth some more you lame ass.

            Be sure to have some fresh panties handy ace because you have now pissed off a lot of vets.

  3.  

    Well my father was a Vietnam vet. Whose was a arms marksmans, guard the President of the United States..had 5 degrees in college education and worked blue collar and white collar jobs. Which I highly respected my father he was an All American. He fought for are county rights to keep us free. The disposition of this government at the time put him in war 18..Where in he position he was trained to kill and yes i mean kill..Guess what? My father smokes marijuana until he died. Which the last 2 years of hes life he spend in the VA hospital. He wanted to smoke. He spoke of it to me. He had hes mind. I think if anyone deserves marijuana it should have been him. So, Yes marijuana needs to be available to everyone and anyone that wants it. There’s nothing wrong with it people are absent minded..They need to be educated about marijuana.

  4.  

    I have a 5000 plant gorilla grow in Humboldt am100% sc and nothing helps PTSD like green stuff:)

  5.  

    Have been waiting almost a year for a response to my appeal to the VA. They don’t seem to care about vets and think it’s just ok to keep prescribing pain pills with terrible side effects instead of marijuana. America is quick to start wars and slow to care for damaged warriors.

  6.  

    Marijuana has helped me tremendously with my ptsd anxiety and anger problems . The VA was giving me medications that was making me very angry my girlfriend said if you dont get off your medication im leaving. I tried Marijuana my girlfriend said your a very nice person on Marijuana it works well with me. I can live alot better than before So marijuana has good medical purposes and properties

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