The Department of Veterans Affairs likes to take itty bitty baby steps in acknowledging the health benefits of medical marijuana for veterans suffering from PTSD or chronic pain. The VA takes baby steps in giving veterans any credit at all from their testimonies that marijuana is soothing their conditions with little to no side effects.

The most recent baby step is that they are now willing to talk to veterans participating in the VA healthcare system about mixing marijuana with their prescription drugs. Many veterans have been turned away from the healthcare system when they admit to using marijuana, even state sanctioned medical marijuana. They are still concerned they may be turned away.

But the directive leaves in place a key prohibition: VA providers are still not permitted to refer veterans to state-approved medical marijuana programs, since the drug is illegal under federal law, with no accepted medical use.

That disconnect makes veterans wary, says Michael Krawitz, a disabled Air Force veteran in Ironto, Va., who takes oxycodone and marijuana to treat extensive injuries he suffered in a non-combat-related motorcycle accident while stationed in Guam in 1984.

“Vets are happy that there’s a policy, but they’re unnerved by that prohibition,” he says.

Krawitz, 55, is the executive director of Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access, an advocacy group. He has always been open with his VA doctors about his medical marijuana use and hasn’t suffered any negative consequences. But Krawitz says he has worked with veterans who have been kicked out of their VA pain management program after a positive drug test and told they couldn’t continue until they stopped using cannabis.

Such actions are usually misunderstandings that can be corrected, he says, but he suggests that the Veterans Health Administration provide clear guidance to its staff about the new directive so veterans aren’t harmed if they admit to using marijuana.

Any step in the right direction is good no matter how small, but it is crazy to see how slow the progress is in any federal agency to catch a clue about the benefits of medical marijuana. The schedule 1 status of marijuana makes the federal government’s stance on marijuana very straight forward. If the army is willing to relax on its recruitment standards for marijuana users, shouldn’t that also translate to relaxing with our veterans?

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