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VA Secretary Shulkin: 'We're Interested In Looking' At Medical Marijuana For Vets
In his first “state of the VA” address at the White House on May 31, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin highlighted his department’s focus on wait times, accountability, quality of care, and veteran suicides. But it may have been one brief answer to a question after his speech that really signaled Shulkin’s openness to radical reforms for veteran health care.
Asked whether his emphasis on improving veteran mental health and preventing suicides meant he was considering an American Legion proposal to decriminalize marijuana and study the drug as a medicine, Shulkin responded: "I hope the people take a look at that."
"Right now, federal law does not prevent us at VA to look at that as an option for veterans,” he told the assembled crowd of journalists, but he emphasized that any policy change would have to come from lawmakers. Pressed by a reporter on his opinion toward pot as a trained physician, Shulkin praised several states’ careful decriminalization and regulation of medical marijuana.
“There may be some evidence that this is beginning to be helpful, and we’re interested in looking at that,” he said.
The American Legion, a 2.5 million-member veterans service organization that’s never been known for social liberalism, has vocally lobbied for medical marijuana research for some time, issuing two national resolutions on the issue and pressing the White House for meetings on medicinal pot for several weeks.
“There is overwhelming evidence that it has been beneficial for some vets,” Louis Celli, the Legion’s national director of veterans affairs and rehabilitation, told Politico on May 20. “The difference is that it is not founded in federal research because it has been illegal."
Celli and Joe Plenzler, the Legion’s director of media affairs, published a pro-pot Defense One op-ed last week that spurred today’s press-conference question to Shulkin.
“Many Afghanistan and Iraq veterans have contacted the American Legion to relay their personal stories about the efficacy of cannabis,” for a variety of physical and emotional maladies, Celli and Plenzler wrote. “This is why the 2.2 million members of the American Legion are calling on the Trump administration to instruct the Drug Enforcement Agency to change how it classifies cannabis.”
How committed Shulkin is to marijuana research remains to be seen. In his speech, he outlined 13 major areas of improvement for the VA and how to get there. His plans include expanding same-day mental-health and primary-care services for vets at more facilities; getting more firing power over VA employees with congressional legislation; freeing more funds for vet care in the private sector; selling off vacant and underutilized VA property; and modernizing the department’s aged IT infrastructure — an initiative that the secretary said would require an additional funding request from Congress, over and above the Trump administration’s proposed VA budget.
But Shulkin’s highest priority, he said, was reducing veteran suicides, even among vets who weren’t in VA care, and he used his address to announce the launch of a summer campaign by the department to tackle suicides.
While it’s possible cannabis could play a role in that effort, Shulkin acknowledged that the ball’s not entirely in his court.
“Until such a time that federal law changes,” he said, “we are not able to prescribe medical marijuana.”
Video footage of a purported "bombing of Kurd civilians" by Turkish military forces shown on ABC News appeared to be a nighttime firing of tracer rounds at a Kentucky gun range.
For U.S. service members who have fought alongside the Kurds, President Donald Trump's decision to approve repositioning U.S. forces in Syria ahead of Turkey's invasion is a naked betrayal of valued allies.
"I am ashamed for the first time in my career," one unnamed special operator told Fox News Jennifer Griffin.
In a Twitter thread that went viral, Griffin wrote the soldier told her the Kurds were continuing to support the United States by guarding tens of thousands of ISIS prisoners even though Turkey had nullified an arrangement under which U.S. and Turkish troops were conducting joint patrols in northeastern Syria to allow the Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG, to withdraw.
"The Kurds are sticking by us," the soldier told Griffin. "No other partner I have ever dealt with would stand by us."
The U.S. military's seemingly never-ending mission supporting civil authorities along the southwestern border will last at least another year.
On Sept. 3, Defense Secretary Mark Esper approved a request from the Department of Homeland Security to provide a total of up to 5,500 troops along the border until Sept. 30, 2020, Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson, commander of U.S. Army North, said on Monday.
Editor's note: This article by Gina Harkins originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia announced on Monday it would hold a large test of its Strategic Missile Forces that will see it fire ballistic and cruise missiles from the land, sea and air this week.
The exercise, from Oct. 15-17, will involve around 12,000 military personnel, as well as aircraft, including strategic nuclear bombers, surface ships and submarines, Russia's Ministry of Defense said in a statement.