The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is making clear it won’t provide support for treatment involving marijuana as part of a new grants program aimed at preventing veteran suicide
In a notice on a proposed interim final rule for the new Staff Sergeant Parker Gordon Fox Suicide Prevention Grant Program published in the Federal Register on Thursday, VA said the three-year, community-based effort will “provide or coordinate the provision of suicide prevention services to eligible individuals and their families for the purpose of reducing veteran suicide.”
But while many veterans and service organizations representing the community have repeatedly testified to Congress and federal agencies that cannabis represents a potential treatment option for medical conditions that commonly afflict military veterans returning from service, VA, perhaps not surprisingly, is drawing a line in the sand when it comes to supporting treatment regimens involving marijuana.
It’s “important for VA to note that any approaches and treatment practices approved will need to be consistent with applicable Federal law,” the department said in the notice. “For example, the use of grant funds to provide or coordinate the provision of marijuana to eligible individuals and their families will be prohibited, as marijuana is currently illegal under Federal law.”
That’s despite the fact that there is a carve out for prospective grantees providing or coordinating “nontraditional and innovative approaches…including but not limited to complementary or alternative interventions with some evidence for effectiveness of improving mental health or mitigating a risk factor for suicidal thoughts and behavior.”
The interim final rule is set to take effect on April 11, and public comments will continue to be accepted until May 9.
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VA’s position on marijuana has been a source of consistent frustration for advocates and veteran service organizations who have been pushing for expanded research into the therapeutic potential of cannabis.
House and Senate committees held joint hearings this month to hear from veterans service organizations (VSOs) about how Congress and the federal government can better serve their constituents, and several of the groups brought up the need to ease restrictions on marijuana.
The testimony echoes what the VSOs have repeatedly raised with lawmakers. The specifics ranged in scope between the various groups, but the overall message was made clear: military veterans uniquely stand to benefit from marijuana treatment and it’s time for Congress to do something about it.
Separately, military veterans would be “encouraged” to discuss medical marijuana treatment without the fear of losing federal benefits under a new bill being sponsored by Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA).
The main thrust of the legislation is to codify existing policies that allow VA doctors to talk about medical cannabis with patients as well as protections for veterans who are candid about their history with marijuana treatment. By doing so, it would enshrine these polices into law so that they could not later be changed administratively by future VA leaders.