VA refers to MMJ as Herbal Over the Counter Medication!

VA refers to MMJ as Herbal Over the Counter Medication!

VA doctors are now required to include veterans’ medical pot use into their treatment plans.

VA Issues Medical Weed Policies, Praised By American Legion

By Geoff Dempsey, Patch Staff  | Updated 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Department of Veterans Affairs is being applauded by the American Legion for issuing policies making it easier for veterans who use medical cannabis to openly navigate the VA system, including talking to their doctors about it. It is now VA policy that providers and pharmacists “discuss with the veteran marijuana use, due to its clinical relevance to patient care,” according to the VA directive.”The American Legion applauds the Department of Veterans Affairs Directive 1315 (click to download full report) which helps clarify access to Veterans Health Administration clinical programs for veterans participating in state-approved medical cannabis programs,” American Legion National Commander Denise Rohan said in a statement. The Legion appealed to the VA in November to allow doctors to speak with their patients about medical cannabis use.The results of a recent study released from the American Legion showed that 92 percent of veteran, and veteran caregiver, respondents supported research into the benefits of medical cannabis and 82 percent supported outright legalization of medical cannabis.

Armed with the results of the study and a series of speakers with powerful stories, the American Legion held a conference appealing to VA officials to reconsider their anti-cannabis policies, which treated cannabis as it is categorized by the federal government: a schedule 1 drug —the category which includes heroin and ecstasy.

The event included speaker Janine Lutz. Her son, John, was a Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Suffering from PTSD, John went to the VA for help. Instead of help, he got a cocktail of 18 drugs which caused immense mental problems including suicidal thoughts.

John quit the pills and “he was alive,” Lutz said. Then, a PTSD episode sent him back to the VA, where he was given a dangerous combination of drugs. “Eight days later, my son was dead,” Janine said.

If medical marijuana had been an option for John, Lutz said, he may still be alive.

Then, on Dec. 8, 2017, the VA issued Directive 1315, which outlines their new policy pertaining to VA doctors’ relationships with patients regarding medical cannabis, which comes in three parts:

  • VA doctors and pharmacists can discuss marijuana use with their veteran patients “due to its clinical relevance to patient care” and can answer veterans’ questions about marijuana.
  • Per the Controlled Substances Act, VA doctors and pharmacists are still prohibited from completing forms or registering veterans in state-approved medical marijuana programs.
  • VA doctors and pharmacists “should discuss” how their use of state-approved medical marijuana affects other clinical activities, like how marijuana use relates to their VA treatment for PTSD, substance use disorders and pain management.

“This updated policy will help encourage veterans using medical cannabis to more openly and fully discuss their healthcare options with VA medical providers – with full reassurance that their VA benefits remain secure,” Rohan said in the Legion’s statement.

In August 2017, the American Legion implemented Resolution No. 28: Permit VA Providers to Discuss the Use of Medical Marijuana in Those States that have Legalized Marijuana. This simple resolution, alongside overwhelming support for medical cannabis research in the veteran community, caught the VA’s ear.

The directive isn’t completely pro-marijuana, but rather issues clear guidance on a multitude of potentially unclear policies:

  • Doctors are prohibited from recommending, or in any other way helping, a veteran use a state-approved medical marijuana program.
    • However, Forbes reported that a 2003 Supreme Court decision found that doctors have a First Amendment right to recommend medical cannabis to their patients; they just cannot provide it.
  • Possession of marijuana on VA facilities is still prohibited.
  • VA employees who are veterans are still prohibited from using marijuana, per the agency’s drug-free workplace policy.
  • The VA will not provide, or pay for, any marijuana.

On the plus side:

  • VA Medical Center directors are prohibited from denying services solely because of a veteran’s use of a state-approved medical marijuana program.
  • VA doctors must factor marijuana use into treatment plans for veterans who use it.
  • Discussions of medical marijuana between veterans and their VA doctors are recorded in the veteran’s medical record.

“We are pleased that the VA is now taking the full medical history of these veterans into consideration when evaluating their physical and mental health,” Rohan said in her statement.

But, the American Legion isn’t done yet. Resolution 11, which came into effect in September 2016, calls for the removal of cannabis from the list of schedule 1 drugs, an action which would “enable safe and efficient drug development research,” the statement says.

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