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VA Could Prescribe Pot to Veterans Under New Bill
In this photo taken Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015, marijuana is measured in 3.5-gram amounts and placed in cans for packaging at the Pioneer Production and Processing marijuana growing facility in Arlington, Wash. Elaine Thompson/AP
Stars and Stripes | Mar 11, 2015 | by Travis J. Tritten
WASHINGTON -- VA doctors could refer veterans to state medical marijuana programs under a landmark reform bill floated in the Senate on Tuesday.
The bill would end the federal prohibition against pot as a medical treatment, clearing away any ambiguity for patients in states that have approved its use. It mirrors a House bill filed last month and specifically allows physicians and health care providers at Department of Veterans Affairs facilities across the country to recommend it.
Medical marijuana has been approved by 23 states and the District of Columbia for treatment of a variety of afflictions, including glaucoma, cancer and HIV. But the VA is a federal agency that follows federal law, under which pot is still illegal, and patients cannot get access through its facilities.
The reforms are overdue and would allow the prescription, use and sale without fear of prosecution, according to the bills’ sponsors, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.; Rand Paul, R-Ky.; and Cory Booker, D-N.J.
The House bill allowing the VA to prescribe medical pot is sponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif.
The federal government has followed the lead of states and eased enforcement of marijuana laws in recent years.
In 2010, the Obama administration asked prosecutors not to go after medical marijuana sellers and the Department of Justice announced in 2013 that it would not challenge states that have decriminalized or legalized pot, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Veterans have been advocating to state governments and Congress for access to medical marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition that might affect about 20 percent of the 1.8 million servicemembers deployed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the National Center for PTSD
November 21, 2014, 03:46 pm
Bipartisan bill would expand veterans' access to medical marijuana.
The VA currently prevents its doctors from giving patients consultations about medical marijuana use.
Blumenauer thinks that veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder could benefit from using medical marijuana. Moreover, the Oregon Democrat argued that allowing veterans to obtain medical marijuana in the open would prevent them from buying the drug illegally.
"We should be allowing these wounded warriors access to the medicine that will help them survive and thrive, including medical marijuana, not treating them like criminals and forcing them into the shadows. It’s shameful," Blumenauer said.
Rohrabacher said the current policy is "antiquated" and prevents veterans from having access to a wide range of treatments for their psychological issues.
"Conscience dictates that we not coldly ignore these desperate men and women, and that we remove government from its paternalistic stance between patient and doctor," Rohrabacher said.
Earlier this year, the House adopted an amendment sponsored by Rohrabacher that would prevent the Justice Department from interfering with states' implementation of their own medical marijuana laws.
Burial delays prompt push for VA oversight in Congress
WASHINGTON — A bill aimed at decreasing recent delays in veteran burials by giving Congress new VA oversight got a push forward from lawmakers Thursday.
A Senate version of the bill requiring the VA to report any burial delays longer than 30 days was introduced by Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., following a filing earlier this year in the House, which boosted the odds Congress may act to pass the new reporting rules before the end of the year.
Reports have sprung up around the country that deceased vets are waiting months to be interred in the Department of Veterans Affairs’ system of national cemeteries.
“This legislation will keep the VA accountable for ensuring every veteran receives a proper burial in a timely manner,” Heller said in a joint released statement with Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., the House sponsor.
Under the bill, the VA would be required to track and record any burials not completed within a month as well as the names of the entities that are responsible for the bodies, including local medical examiners, funeral directors, and county service groups.
Data on the burial delays would be collected in an annual report and given to the House and Senate veterans’ affairs committees, according to the bill language.
Reports of delays are only one of the recent headaches for the VA, which is working on a massive overhaul following a scandal over patient wait times in his nationwide veteran health care system.
The agency oversees a system of 131 cemeteries and burial rights for veterans. Over the past year, there have been media reports of long delays for deceased veterans at facilities in California and elsewhere.
Royce cited a May report by the Los Angeles Times that 52 unclaimed veteran bodies had accumulated in the Los Angeles County morgue in his home state.
“While the quality of the healthcare that veterans receive has been in the news lately, our veterans deserve the same attention when it comes to their burials,” Royce said in the statement.
Still, the legislation is likely to face steep odds.
Both chambers of Congress left Washington on Thursday and are not scheduled to return until after Thanksgiving. Next month, lawmakers will only have a couple of weeks to pass crucial budget and war bills and other issues may get pushed aside.