Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said medical marijuana could help veterans, a major split in tone from others in the Trump administration.
"There may be some evidence that this is beginning to be helpful and we're interested in looking at that and learning from that," Shulkin said about medical use of the drug for veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in states with medical marijuana laws.
"If there is compelling evidence that this is helpful I hope that people take a look at that and come up with the right decision," he said during a White House press briefing, pointing out that the VA is barred by federal law from giving veterans prescriptions for pot to help deal with issues of depression, suicidal thoughts and other concerns. Congress recently changed the rules so VA doctors can now discuss medical marijuana with patients in states where it's legal for the first time, but they still can't prescribe the drug.
Shulkin suggested that the VA will look into studying what effects medical marijuana is having on veterans in states where it's legal.
That's a big difference in tone from other top Trump administration officials.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a vehement opponent to all marijuana use, saying applications for medical marijuana have been "hyped, maybe too much," and saying he's "dubious" about its use.
Shulkin's comments came in response to a question about a recent letter from the American Legion, a major veterans group known for its conservative lean, advocating for a reevaluation of the VA's current rules against medical marijuana while talking up its potential to lower veteran suicide rates.
The VA boss said the agency is “still in critical condition” despite efforts that predate his tenure to reduce wait times for medical appointments and expand opportunities to seek care in the private sector.
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“There is a lot of work to do,” Shulkin said in his “State of the VA” report.
He said veterans can get “same-day” services at medical centers but are still waiting too long — more than 60 days — for new appointments at about 30 locations nationwide. Many primary care centers are understaffed or running out of space. Appeals of disability claims remain backed up with years of wait. Inventory systems at several VA facilities are woefully out of date, and employee accountability is “clearly broken.”
“Our veterans and their families have benefited from our early success, but have suffered due to the failures of the past to effect real change,” Shulkin said.
His biggest proposals for revamping the VA — and fulfilling President Trump’s campaign promises — will need to be acted on soon if measures are to be passed by this fall.
The wish list includes an accountability bill to make it easier to fire VA employees, expanding the Veterans Choice program of private-sector care and stemming veterans’ suicide. About 20 veterans take their lives each day. “That should be unacceptable to all of us,” Shulkin said.