Pedestrians walk past the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs headquarters in Washington, D.C.Andrew Harrar / Bloomberg / Getty Images
Michael Krawitz, the executive director of Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access, is a longtime advocate of the benefits of marijuana. He speaks from personal experience: He uses medical marijuana to treat a physical injury he suffered while serving in Guam in the 1980s, from working on avionics equipment on board a B-52 bomber. But his activities as an advocate for vets in need of medical marijuana have also put him in touch with many like Coomer and Seifert who need cannabis to treat their PTSD.
In addition, because of his chronic pain, Krawitz became aware of another problem marijuana-using veterans face when dealing with the VA: “pain contracts,” officially called patient care agreements (PCAs).
To receive controlled medication such as opioids from the VA, a veteran needs to sign a PCA, Krawitz says, a nonlegal agreement requiring that the vet submit to regular drug screenings for illegal drugs, including marijuana. The VA says these contracts are its “standard approach” to ensure that both the patient and the doctor understand “their respective responsibilities in managing the risks and benefits of opioid analgesia.”
Krawitz, knowing he would test positive for marijuana, refused to sign.
“I lost my access to pain treatment as punishment for not signing a pain contract,” Krawitz says. He lives in Virginia, which is not a medical marijuana state. “I have seen an outside doctor for my pain treatment for many years as a result of our standoff,” he adds.
The VA continues to act as if marijuana has no medicinal value, despite increasing indications to the contrary coming from the 21 medical marijuana states and countries such as Israel, which has become a surprising leader in the field, distributing 880 pounds of medical marijuana per month. (By comparison, the Netherlands, long associated with lax drug laws, distributes a mere 330 pounds per year.)
Despite the evidence that marijuana has legitimate medical value, especially to those suffering from PTSD, the VA considers its use a criminal act, further complicating the treatment of those veterans who say they need both marijuana and pain medication to cope with their injuries.
A VA spokeswoman says, “Pain management agreements are established between the provider and patient as a means to ensure the safest use possible of prescription narcotics. Providers can suspend or reduce prescriptions should they be concerned with improper use, or possible conflicts with other drugs.”
“Other drugs,” of course, includes marijuana.