With medical cannabis offering benefits for physical, mental, and spiritual recovery, it is veterans who should be on the “front lines” of treatment adoption.
Sadly, the opposite has been the case. Despite substantive funding and booster programs to offer services to veterans nationwide (Directed by the US Department of Veteran Affairs, or, the VA), medical cannabis has run contrary to multiple drug screening and eligibility requirements. Without meeting these requirements, veterans face exemption from the program or being kicked out of existing benefits.
To live a normal life, many veterans rely on these services. While some are distinctly medical (such as VA-directed prescriptions, disability, and claims), others are related to a greater sense of well-being, such as education benefits and management of military records for other state-level and municipal relief programs.
Veterans have always feared that pursuing medical marijuana could have them kicked off of the VA roster, despite cannabis adding to their recovery—not working against it.
The idea that cannabis is a “gateway drug” or a symbol of someone’s life gone awry is a myth propagated by the War on Drugs. Still, it has real consequences for veterans who want to navigate recovery through natural remedies alongside federally-sanctioned resources.
Luckily, the US Department of Veteran Affairs has recently put out a clarification page on their website, offering higher-level information on medical cannabis usage for veterans and how it will not affect their participation in government programs—a move that provides a breath of relief to veterans nationwide.
Cannabis, According To The VA
The challenge in articulating the VA position on medical marijuana comes down to the lack of federal jurisdiction when it comes to allowing for and prescribing medical weed. As a federal department, they are required to follow federal law (no prescribing or possessing cannabis). Likewise, they must follow state-to-state legislation in applicable cases (where medical marijuana may be sold, possessed, and used.)
In short, federal law may not supersede state law except in extraordinary cases. So while they must on paper follow federal law by banning cannabis use and possession, the actual program eligibility is determined by state law, so the VA may not intervene—even if they wanted to.
What this means for medical cannabis users seeking out veteran services is that the two are compatible. The only caveat is that a VA physician may not prescribe, supply, or grant access to medical cannabis, and medical cannabis may not be possessed on federally-controlled VA grounds like doctors’ offices or records halls.
Luckily, a veteran may simply procure a medical cannabis license through another doctor so long as they do not involve a VA physician at any stage, including signatures.
The VA office does ask that patients disclose any medical cannabis usage, but this is governed by the same privacy laws that protect medical records. No one may disclose a medical history or change a treatment plan in light of it, meaning medical marijuana usage is permitted and possibly personally endorsed by VA physicians even if they cannot have a direct hand in the prescription.
Transparency In The VA
The fear of losing access to treatment has been a historic roadblock for people from all parts of America in disclosing their medical history. From food stamps to organ transplants, a lack of scientific and cultural literacy regarding the safety and efficacy of medical marijuana use has caused untold harm. In simple terms, the VA makes sure its stance on state-level cannabis programs is clear.
“Veteran participation in state marijuana programs does not affect eligibility for VA care and services. VA providers can and do discuss marijuana use with Veterans as part of comprehensive care planning, and adjust treatment plans as necessary.”
Our hope is that other organizations follow suit and either drop or clarify their program eligibility regarding cannabis usage. Most users have nothing to hide but are afraid of their dignity, rights, or much-needed resources being taken away through disclosing cannabis usage.
If you are a veteran with questions regarding medical marijuana, treatment, or any VA services, you can contact VA directly through Ask VA here.
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