January 31, 2016

As Deadline Approaches for VA to Renew its Rule that Prohibits Medical Marijuana, Senator Gillibrand Urges VA to Fix Discriminatory Policy & Allow Doctors to Recommend Medical Marijuana to Veterans

Current VA Policy Prohibits VA Doctors from Recommending Medical Marijuana to Veterans, Even In States Like New York Where It is Legal 4.5 Million VA Veterans Who Suffer from Chronic Pain Can’t Get Access to Medical Marijuana Through the VA

New York, NY – Today U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand with New York veterans, medical professionals, and medical marijuana advocates urged the Department of Veterans Affairs to fix its discriminatory policy and allow VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana to veterans in states where it is legal.

“Veterans who live in states where medical marijuana is legal should be able to talk to their doctor about it as a treatment option just like any other resident,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Our veterans deserve the highest quality care possible, yet current VA policy denies them the ability to access medical marijuana and discourages them from even discussing it with their VA doctor. Our veterans shouldn’t be discriminated against simply because they want to see a doctor at the VA and utilize the benefits they have earned. I’ll continue pushing the VA to fix this problem and ensure that our veterans are able to access all treatment options that are legally available in their state.” 

“As a disabled United States Air Force veteran 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 very documentation is what I need to participate in a state medical marijuana program,” said Michael Krawitz, Executive Director, Veterans For Medical Cannabis Access and disabled United States Air Force veteran.

“Every 65 min a veteran brother or sister is committing suicide because they are suffering with an invisible illness that few people see,” said SSGT Mark DiPasquale USMC medically retired and Co-Founder of Veterans Cannabis Collective. “On top of that we are being over medicated with drugs filled with chemicals to treat one symptom and cause countless others. The controlled substances act of 1970 has cannabis categorized as a schedule one drug while all he drugs they prescribe are killing thousands of us while cannabis kills none. We need the cares act of 2016 passed now to stop the death toll.”


“Irving Place Surgery and Wellness Center and Integrated Scientific Herbal Advances have been actively responding to veterans’ needs,” said Dr. Ramesh Sawhney MD DABS. “Our in house psychiatrist, Dr. Rebecca Smith MD is also a staff member of the Veterans Administration and we see great value to medical management of our veterans and feel that discontinuing the medical marijuana program will lead to two immediate outcomes. The first, a decline in medical management of patients who most need a team approach. The second, is an exodus of physicians trained to best provide this care. A lack of funding equates to an irreversible curtailing in providing vets with the options they need and deserve.”

The current VA policy, which is up for renewal February 1st, prohibits VA doctors from recommending medical marijuana as a treatment option to veterans, even in states like New York where non-VA physicians can legally recommend medical marijuana. VA doctors cannot recommend medical marijuana even if they believe it is the best treatment option for veterans and are discouraged from discussing medical marijuana with veteran patients. This current system discourages VA patients and doctors from being honest with each another about medical marijuana, making it more difficult for doctors to get a full picture of their patients’ health and leaves veterans with no option but to pay out of pocket and see a doctor outside of the VA system if they want to discuss medical marijuana.

Gillibrand is leading a bipartisan coalition of 22 Senators and Representatives urging the VA to change its current policy and allow vets the option of medical marijuana as a treatment option in states where it is legal. Gillibrand, along with U.S. Senators Steve Daines, Jeff Merkley, Cory Booker, Rand Paul, Barbara Boxer, Patty Murray, Brian Schatz, Tammy Baldwin, Michael Bennet, Ron Wyden, and Elizabeth Warren, and U.S. Representatives Earl Blumenauer, Dina Titus, Dana Rohrabacher, Joe Heck, Sam Farr, Jared Polis, Chellie Pingree, Steve Cohen, Justin Amash, and Mark Pocan, sent a letter this week urging the VA to fix its policy. Medical marijuana is legal in 23 states and the District of Columbia.

 

Gillibrand is the lead sponsor of the bipartisan Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act that would legalize marijuana for medical use. The legislation would:

  • Recognize states’ responsibility to set medical marijuana policy and eliminate potential federal prosecution;
  • Reschedule marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II, recognizing “accepted medical use”;
  • Allow states to import cannabidiol (CBD), recognized treatment for epilepsy and seizure disorders;
  • Provide veterans access;
  • Permit financial services and banking for marijuana dispensaries;
  • Expand opportunities for research.