The VA official site states clearly that any substance that is illegal on the federal level is NOT permitted to be used, recommended, prescribed, or endorsed by the Department of Veterans Affairs, up to and including the recommendation that veterans use pot to alleviate symptoms or pain.
The issues facing veterans who use pot while seeking treatment from the VA are more complex. Those who use marijuana to relieve symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or other service-connected medical issues may be afraid to discuss this with a VA care provider out of fear that their VA benefits may be in jeopardy for doing so. Under the policies active at the time of this writing, any substance listed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a Schedule One controlled substance are subject to this prohibition at the VA level.
Veterans Will Not Lose VA Benefits For Discussing Medical Marijuana With VA Care Providers
The VA official site makes it clear that veterans who use cannabis, pot, 420, etc… are not in danger of losing VA benefits. 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.
It is safe for veterans to discuss marijuana use with VA staff. Veterans do not need to be concerned with or anticipate punitive measures as a result of informing VA staff of pot use. It is very important to note that this applies to retired or separated military members only.
VA caregivers need to make decisions about a veteran’s continued healthcare in an informed way, including the patient’s lifestyle choices, possible drug interactions with alcohol, cannabis, or other substances, etc. A doctor who knows the veteran’s marijuana use may or may not advise an adjusted course of treatment depending on circumstances.
The VA official site has a list of rules, information, and reassurances for veterans concerned about being forthright about their medical pot use with a VA caregiver. Specifically:
- Veterans will not be denied VA benefits because of marijuana use.
- Veterans are encouraged to discuss marijuana use with their VA providers.
- VA health care providers will record marijuana use in the Veteran’s VA medical record in order to have the information available in treatment planning. As with all clinical information, this is part of the confidential medical record and protected under patient privacy and confidentiality laws and regulations.
- VA clinicians may not recommend medical marijuana.
- VA clinicians may not prescribe products containing Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), Cannabidiol (CBD), or any other cannabinoids.
In states where medical marijuana is approved, some kind of screening process is usually required in order to allow patients to legally buy pot from a state-licensed medical marijuana dispensary. In the State of Illinois, for example, the applicant must be screened for any one of a list of symptoms including certain types of chronic pain, PTSD, and debilitating conditions such as fibromyalgia.
Illinois requires the applicant to have a physician’s approval for marijuana, and many veterans would naturally turn to their VA caregiver for this certification. However, VA policy does not permit VA doctors or care providers to participate in this process in any way including help with the paperwork required by the state for MMJ cards; VA patients would need to use a non-VA facility to be certified by a clinician.
VA Policy On Medical Marijuana Prescriptions
The term “prescription” is used loosely here; many states do not require a prescription for medical cannabis per se, and patients who use legal medical pot are often “authorized” to possess cannabis instead. In any case, the Department of Veterans Affairs does not permit VA clinics or staff to prescribe or fill prescriptions for medical marijuana.
The VA will not pay for such prescriptions regardless of the source and VA rules forbid the use or possession of pot on any VA facility.