MINNEAPOLIS — The NFL will salute 15 recipients of the Medal of Honor, the United States’ most prestigious military decoration, when they participate in the coin toss before the Super Bowl on Feb. 4.
World War II veteran Hershel Woodrow “Woody” Williams, who received the Medal of Honor during the Battle of Iwo Jima, will flip the coin, surrounded by the group of recipients.
“The NFL is proud to honor our nation’s heroes at Super Bowl 52,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said. “These courageous individuals deserve to be recognized on America’s biggest stage. We are grateful for their service to our country and we are pleased to continue the NFL’s longstanding tradition of hosting special tributes to service members at the Super Bowl.”
The other Medal of Honor recipients participating are:
Bennie Adkins, Army, Vietnam; Don Ballard, Navy, Vietnam; Sammy Davis, Army, Vietnam; Roger Donlon, Army, Vietnam; Sal Giunta, Army, Afghanistan; Flo Groberg, Army, Afghanistan; Tom Kelley, Navy, Vietnam; Allan Kellogg, Marines, Vietnam; Gary Littrell, Army, Vietnam;Walter Marm, Army, Vietnam; Robert Patterson, Army, Vietnam; Leroy Petry, Army, Afghanistan; Clint Romesha, Army, Afghanistan; James Taylor, Army, Vietnam.
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The American Legion Department of Indiana is proud to announce that it will be hosting a Statewide membership drive-around in February from the 16th through the 18th called Operation Snowball Express.
The mission of the Snowball Express, is to conduct site visits of multiple posts within each of the 11 Districts. Department leadership plans to meet with District and Post leadership in our Indiana communities to raise awareness of The American Legion Mission; to provide an opportunity for state level leadership to visit with local post level leaders and volunteers; to collect membership cards.
The official traveling party consists of:
Any changes at the Post level must be communicated to Department Assistant Adjutant John Crosby at 317-630-1264 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org in a timely matter to allow for adjustments to be established and communications made.
District Commanders are strongly encouraged to meet the official party at each post within their District and are welcome to meet at neighboring Districts as well.
Posts are encouraged to invite their local community leaders, law enforcement and firefighters, elected officials, and media.
The Department Communications Office has drafted media advisories tailored to each respective post to be released inviting local media and raising awareness of our visits to each community. Additionally, progress will be recorded and posted to the Department website and social media outlets along the route in real time.
All participants, both of the official party, leadership, and membership are encouraged to share their experience through images and captions on social media, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag #WeChangeLives so that the Department communications office can track and share on the Department website www.indianalegion.org, in the Hoosier Legionnaire, and on Department social media.
By Amanda Dolasinski - The Fayetteville Observer, N.C.
Women quietly broke through barriers last fall when they became the first in the Army to earn the prestigious Expert Infantryman Badge at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
The badge, which was created in the 1940s, only recently opened to women when the Department of Defense struck down regulations that prevented them from serving in infantry jobs.
The women earned the badge during testing with hundreds of male candidates in November -- about two years after infantry jobs opened to women.
"This historic achievement is a reminder of the great things we can achieve when women are seen and treated as equals and given the same chance to contribute to their country," U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth said in a statement. The Democrat from Illinois was among the first Army women to fly combat missions during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
In 2004, Duckworth was deployed to Iraq as a Black Hawk pilot for the Illinois Army National Guard when it was struck down by a rocket-propelled grenade. She lost her legs and partial use of her right arm.
"These six incredible women prove exactly why the Department of Defense was right to allow women to serve in all military roles, an action that was long overdue," she said. "Remember, women have served attached to infantry units for decades without being formally assigned to the unit -- so even when they meet the requirements, they technically could not earn the EIB until now."
Through a spokesman for the 82nd Airborne Division, all six women who earned the badge declined to talk about their achievement or the significance of the badge. The division did not name the women.
Division leaders declined interview requests for this story.
Earning the Badge
To earn the Expert Infantryman Badge, a soldier must successfully complete 30 tasks that prove mastery infantry skills. If a soldier makes three errors, he or she fails and must wait one year to try again.
At Fort Bragg, soldiers were tested on weapons proficiency and medical and patrol skills.
Soldiers assembled the Carl Gustav recoilless rifle, claymore mine, Javelin and AK-47 weapons systems. Among medical tasks, they performed first aid for a suspected fracture, open head wound, open abdominal wound and burns. In the patrol lane, soldiers decontaminated themselves and equipment, identified terrain features on a map and applied camouflage.
The testing takes place over several days, during the day and at night.
Of the 1,000 candidates who tested for the badge at Fort Bragg in November, 287 earned it. The candidates came from Fort Bragg, U.S. Army Special Operations Command, 18th Airborne Corps and units at Fort Stewart, Georgia.
Traditionally, only about 18 percent of all candidates who test for the badge earn it.
Testing for the Expert Infantryman Badge is conducted at several installations each year. Standards for the test are set by the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia.
A 'Soldier Skill'
As women became eligible for infantry jobs, Command Sgt. Maj. Martin Celestine said there was never skepticism that women wouldn't be strong enough or trained well enough to test for the badge.
"No, there was no doubt," said Celestine, command sergeant major of the Infantry School. "I've deployed multiple times, and I've been side-by-side with women. When we talk about technical competency, it's not about 'man or woman.' This is a soldier skill. We're all one team here."
Col. Townley Hedrick, deputy commandant for the school, said the Army's training has set women up for success, just like the men who have been training in those jobs for decades. He said he expected women to earn the badge.
"Women are going through infantry basic training," he said. "They're going through operations. We expect them to go through it and earn it just like a man."
Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, who recently left command of the 18th Airborne Corps, said the corps and overall Army readiness has been strengthened as women integrate into combat arms jobs.
"Army forces must possess the capabilities -- and be prepared to fight across multiple domains and through contested areas -- to deter potential adversaries, and should deterrence fail, rapidly defeat them," he said. "As the Army shapes the future force, we will ensure that every individual has the opportunity to maximize his or her potential."
The achievement has fueled the passion for Jakhira Blue, a 17-year-old 2017 graduate of North Johnston High School, who had been planning to enlist in the Army as airborne infantry. She will head to Fort Benning for training in March.
She knows she'll be in the minority in infantry training since the jobs opened to women. It doesn't matter, she said.
"It's going to make me push myself harder," she said. "I want to show everybody I can do it."
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Erik Brady, USA TODAY Sports
The NFL rejected a one-page ad for the NFL’s Super Bowl program submitted by AMVETS with the message “Please Stand.” The veterans organization called that corporate censorship and said similar ads were accepted by the NHL and NBA for official programs for their all-star games.
“The Super Bowl game program is designed for fans to commemorate and celebrate the game, players, teams and the Super Bowl,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told USA TODAY Sports by email. “It’s never been a place for advertising that could be considered by some as a political statement. The NFL has long supported the military and veterans and will again salute our service members in the Super Bowl with memorable on-field moments that will be televised as part of the game.”
Joe Chenelly, executive director of AMVETS, said players who protest by kneeling during the national anthem are exercising their free speech and that AMVETS only wanted to do the same.
“The protests are very much out of our purview,” he said. “We were not looking to comment on those. This is part of our Americanism program” in which the organization conducts seminars in schools and with youth groups on the proper way to display, care for and respect the flag.
McCarthy said a VFW ad for the Super Bowl program was submitted and later approved for a tagline that read: “We Stand for Veterans” with text describing benefits the organization offers. He said AMVETS submitted an ad last Wednesday with the line “Please Stand.”
“We looked to work with the organization and asked it to consider other options such as ‘Please Honor our Veterans,’” McCarthy said. “They chose not to and we asked it to consider using ‘Please Stand for Our Veterans.’ Production was delayed as we awaited an answer. As the program was going to production, the organization asked about including a hashtag” — as in #PleaseStand — “and was informed that approval would not be provided in time and was asked to approve the ad without the hashtag. The organization did not respond and the program ultimately went into production to meet deadlines.”
Chenelly said the ad would have cost $30,000. The league does not sell the advertising for the game program; a third-party publisher sells it, but the league approves what goes in the program.
Marion Polk, AMVETS national commander, wrote a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, dated Monday, that says in part: “Freedom of speech works both ways. We respect the rights of those who choose to protest as these rights are precisely what our members have fought — and in many cases died — for. But imposing corporate censorship to deny that same right to those veterans who have secured it for us all is reprehensible and totally beyond the pale.”
AMVETS, also known as American Veterans, styles itself as the largest and oldest veterans service organization that is open to all veterans.
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By JAMES CLARK - Task & Purpose
At a time when the Department of Veterans Affairs has its hands full combating the opiate epidemic among veterans; walking a tightrope on medical cannabis research; chipping away at its claims backlog; and ending veterans suicide, it’s struggling to find time and resources to end veteran homelessness.
For the first time in seven years, the number of homeless veterans has increased in the United States. There were 585 more homeless veterans in 2017 than the year prior — the first time that number has risen since 2010, when then-President Barack Obama set the goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015 — a deadline that obviously was not met.
The VA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development — the two federal agencies taking lead on that front — have made considerable gains in the last seven years, with vet homelessness dropping overall by 46%. But watchdogs worry that efforts to shelter more than 40,000 veterans still living on U.S. streets are stalling.
“It seems to us there is no longer an emphasis and determination to get every veteran off the streets,” Stephen Peck, the president of U.S. VETS, a nonprofit that provides housing and employment assistance to homeless veterans, said at a Jan. 18 congressional hearing on veteran homelessness. “This is no time to be taking our eye off the ball.”
Here’s what you need to know about the challenges facing the Department of Veterans Affairs as it seeks to end this longstanding problem.
It’s not just about housing
Since 2010, when the VA rolled out its plan to end veteran homelessness, more than 480,000 veterans and their families have been permanently housed, quickly moved into new homes, or otherwise prevented from becoming homeless through various federal programs, according to a statement by HUD last month.
Housing programs provide sunny metrics for administrators, but they don’t get at a lot of root causes for homelessness.
“I think it’s important we look at the entire continuum,” Peck said at the hearing. “There has been a tendency to look for a single fix — Housing First was the answer there for a while — but I think it’s critical that we provide those more intensive services.”
Here’s what else is required
Housing takes care of homeless veterans’ most immediate need, but it doesn’t get at the root causes of homelessness. That requires a broader approach “so that veterans coming in from off the street get the services they require, whether it be mental health, substance abuse, education, or whatever it may be,” Peck said.
On the ground, this could mean pairing homeless veterans with social workers; getting those who need it into substance abuse programs; assisting veterans in finding gainful employment; and childcare service for veterans with children.
Women veterans face nearly twice the risk of homelessness as male peers
Women veterans face a greater risk of becoming homeless — 2.4% — compared to male vets, who face a 1.4% risk. Contributing factors include post-traumatic stress disorder; loss of employment; dissolution of marriage; and a lack of gender-specific support, according to a Jan. 18 Veterans of Foreign Wars’ statement. Additionally, one-fifth of homeless female veterans have dependent children, which places added emphasis on the need for support services like child-care.
Minority veterans, urban dwellers, and those suffering from substance abuse are at the highest risk
The majority of homeless veterans are single; live in urban areas; suffer from mental health, substance, and/or alcohol abuse disorder; and account for roughly 11% of the adult homeless population, according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. Roughly 45% of all homeless veterans are African American or Hispanic, even though those groups only make up about 30% of the active military ranks. Homeless vets are younger on average — compared to the entire vet population — and nearly half of all homeless veterans served during the Vietnam War, and a third of all homeless veterans served in a war zone. A further 1.4 million veterans are considered “at risk” of homelessness, due to a lack of support, poverty, overcrowded and substandard housing.
Housing and support programs require significant funding
In December, Politico reported that the VA planned to pull $460 million specifically set aside for the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (or HUD-VASH) program, which provides vets with housing vouchers. The plan was to redirect those funds to local VA hospitals, where individual directors could determine how the money was used. That proposal prompted an outcry from veteran advocates and lawmakers who feared funds would go to other uses, and the VA backtracked on the decision.
Advocates continue to worry about VA cuts to homeless programs
“While VA has backed away from this decision for the time being, this could’ve dramatically reduced case management for vulnerable veterans,” Kathryn Monet, chief executive officer of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans said at Thursday’s hearing. “To remove it would be catastrophic to the housing stability of veterans using these vouchers.”
At a Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs hearing Jan. 17, VA Secretary David Shulkin stated that any changes to changes to veteran homelessness programs would bring more resources to bear on the problem, not fewer. “We need to do this better,” Shulkin said. “We have to rethink our effort. We need to double down on things that work and come up with a fresh approach here. I’m not satisfied with the progress we’re making.”
It’s not entirely clear where veteran homelessness stands as a VA priority
The obstacles facing veteran homelessness don’t boil down to funding alone, but resources play a major role. They also serve as an indicator of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ priorities.
“Our feeling is that they’ve either given up thinking this is going to work, or they have other priorities,” Peck told Task & Purpose. “Secretary Shulkin has five priorities, but homelessness is not one of them.” Indeed, Shulkin told lawmakers last May that his priorities are greater health care choices for vets, modernizing VA, increasing efficiency, improving timeliness, and ending veteran suicide — all laudable, but not directly addressing homelessness.
“One of the things we’ve heard is that he wants more money to use for those five priorities,” Peck said.
When asked for a comment, VA Press Secretary Curt Cashour said in an email: “We have a dedicated team of more than 5,000 staff across the country focusing on Veteran homelessness as their primary responsibility every day. But there are limits to what VA can do affect the supply of affordable housing, which is more dependent on state and local policies and community involvement.”
VA’s spokesman says the main culprit is expensive big cities
The high rate of homelessness in urban centers like Los Angeles— which saw a 26% increase in overall homelessness since 2016 — is closely tied to rising housing costs, and a workaround requires coordination between city, county, and state organizations and the federal government, but there’s only so much the VA can do alone, Cashour said. “An inadequate supply of affordable housing and major increases in rental costs, particularly in Seattle and Los Angeles, are the top challenges, considering that those two cities are where we’ve seen the largest uptick in Veteran homelessness recently.”
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By NIKKI WENTLING | Stars and Stripes
WASHINGTON — Despite pleas from congressmen, veterans and the country’s largest veterans service organization asking for research into medical marijuana, the Department of Veterans Affairs won’t initiate a study into the drug’s effects on post-traumatic stress disorder, VA Secretary David Shulkin wrote in a letter to House Democrats.
The letter, dated Dec. 21 and publicly released Tuesday, was written in response to a request in October from Democrats on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs for the VA to initiate research into the efficacy of medical cannabis. In their request, the Democrats cited the country’s opioid crisis and the growing demand from veterans and major service groups that want cannabis available as a treatment option for chronic pain and PTSD.
“VA is committed to research and developing effective ways to help veterans cope with post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain conditions,” Shulkin wrote. “However, federal law restricts VA’s ability to conduct research involving medical marijuana, or to refer veterans to such research projects.”
The letter states that a VA review last year of existing research found a connection between marijuana use and increased odds of suicide, as well as increased evidence of mania and psychotic symptoms. It calls attention to the VA’s efforts to reduce opioid prescriptions, and the letter lists alternatives available to veterans through the VA, including yoga, acupuncture, massage therapy and tai chi.
Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., the ranking Democrat on the House VA oversight committee, who signed the October letter, on Tuesday called Shulkin’s response “disappointing and unacceptable” and an attempt to mislead the veterans community.
Walz and other Democrats fired back a request Tuesday for Shulkin to explain the specific barriers preventing the VA from researching marijuana. They asked for an explanation by Feb. 1.
In a scathing response Tuesday about Shulkin's letter, John Hudak, deputy director of the Center for Effective Public Management at the Brookings Institution, called the VA secretary’s response “an unfortunate combination of false information, incomplete analysis and incomprehensible logic.”
Shulkin “appears to wave off committee members’ concerns about an issue that affects the lives of millions of soldiers and veterans across the United States,” Hudak wrote in a report.
Hudak said Shulkin mischaracterized federal law, and the claim that the VA is barred from researching marijuana is “simply false.” He went on to say Shulkin, who is also a physician, cherry-picked research without providing context.
Shulkin’s newly stated position on marijuana will send a message to veterans, Hudak wrote.
His report follows a decision earlier this month from Attorney General Jeff Sessions to give discretion to U.S. attorneys to decide how aggressively to enforce federal marijuana laws.
Though it doesn’t affect medical marijuana, some advocates believe the uncertainty created by the decision could push more veterans to stay silent about their marijuana use and instead self-medicate. In statements from the White House, President Donald Trump’s administration stood by the decision.
“Combining concerns about the Attorney General, language from the White House supporting Mr. Sessions and a VA Department unwilling even to conduct research into the possibility that marijuana could have medical value speaks loudly to veterans,” Hudak wrote. “It tells them that this administration will be tough on marijuana and that it has no interest in answering important medical questions — even those that could improve the lives and well-being of our wounded warriors.”
In May, Shulkin said during a public address that he was open to learning about any evidence marijuana could be used to treat veterans. Motivated in part by those comments, the American Legion, with a membership of 2 million veterans, aggressively advocated last year for the VA to spearhead research.
The Legion commissioned a poll in November that found 92 percent of veteran households are in favor of more marijuana research. The Legion sent its own requests for research to Shulkin last fall, but they went unanswered.
The group also tried to drum up support at the VA for the first government-approved study of marijuana’s effects on veterans with PTSD. The study is underway in Phoenix, but researchers are struggling to recruit enough eligible veterans.
When researchers and the Legion requested help from the Phoenix VA hospital, the VA said federal law restricted the agency from recommending the study to patients. As of Tuesday, the study had enrolled 35 veterans of the 76 needed to complete the study.
The American Legion and the group of House Democrats believe the VA is best positioned to research marijuana because of its access to veterans struggling with PTSD whose symptoms haven’t improved through other treatments.
“We are specifically interested in VA research into the impact of medical cannabis on veterans suffering from chronic pain and PTSD,” Walz said in a written statement released Tuesday. “If there is indeed legislative action needed, I sincerely hope Secretary Shulkin will clearly identify the steps Congress must take so that VA may begin their research without delay.”
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By: Tara Copp - Military Times
Command Sergeant Major John Troxell, the senior enlisted adviser to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, carried a shovel with him as he spoke to troops about destroying ISIS. If they don't surrender, Troxell said, they could be killed any number of ways - including by shovel. (Department of Defense)
The military’s top enlisted service member has a message for the Islamic State, one that’s making the rounds on Twitter and firing up crowds he speaks to: Surrender terrorists, or face the blunt end of an entrenching tool.
In a Facebook post hash-tagged “ISIS_SurrenderOrDie” Command Sergeant Major John Troxell, the senior enlisted adviser to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford, offered ISIS two options.
“If they surrender, we will safeguard them to their detainee facility cell, provide them chow, a cot and due process,” Troxell wrote. “However if they choose not to surrender, then we will kill them with extreme prejudice, whether that be through security force assistance, by dropping bombs on them, shooting them in the face, or beating them to death with our entrenching tools. Regardless, they cannot win, so they need to choose how it’s going to be.”
And, if not ... he offered a how-to on employing the “entrenching tool.”
“Hell yeah CSM Troxell, I’mm getting my Etool ready #getsome” wrote one reply to Command Sergeant Major John Troxell’s call to arms.
Troxell’s Jan. 9 Tweet repeated a theme he spoke about as he visited troops over the holidays.
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HOUSTON — A funeral was held Wednesday for a Texas soldier whose 92nd Infantry Division was the only African-American Army division to fight in Europe and who was buried for decades as “unknown.”
The service was held at Houston National Cemetery for Army Pfc. Lonnie Eichelberger, a 20-year-old from Waco who died in heavy fighting with German forces in Italy just months before Germany’s surrender in 1945.
For decades he was among nearly 73,000 U.S. service members from WWII who are unaccountable.
“It has brought closure that he has been identified,” said his great-nephew, Cheyenne Eichelberger, who explained that family members knew only that his uncle was killed in action somewhere in Europe.
Army officials notified the family in 2016 that Defense Department scientists had identified the remains using dental and anthropological analysis and circumstantial evidence.
Pfc. Eichelberger enlisted at a time the Army was segregated and he was assigned to the 92nd Infantry Division, which in 1944 and 1945 fought at the westernmost portion of the Allied line in northern Italy, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, an arm of the Defense Department.
“That’s the forgotten piece,” Cheyenne Eichelberger said Wednesday. “Minorities have served in every war and conflict that America has been involved in.”
His uncle was declared missing after a battle near Strettoia, Italy. Remains recovered near there after the war in Europe ended could not be identified and eventually were buried in 1949 at the American cemetery in Florence, Italy, designated as remains X-193.
Decades later, information was obtained linking X-193 to two soldiers in the 92nd Infantry who still hadn’t been identified, so the remains were disinterred in 2016 and ultimately one set was identified as Eichelberger’s, according to DPAA.
Of the approximately 73,000 service members in WWII whose remains have not been recovered, more than 3,600 were from Texas.
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Hoosier veterans celebrate service to country, urge Indiana lawmakers to act on veterans legislation
Dan Carden - Northwest Indiana Times
INDIANAPOLIS — Hundreds of Hoosier military veterans, including a busload from Northwest Indiana, filled the Statehouse Tuesday to celebrate their service and urge lawmakers to back policies that meet veterans' needs.
The Military-Veterans Coalition of Indiana is seeking legislative action on 14 priorities ranging from a greater state tax exemption for military-connected income to improved efforts to end veteran homelessness, creating a scratch-off lottery ticket benefiting veteran causes and tax credits for businesses that hire veterans or National Guard members.
Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb, a U.S. Navy veteran, did not speak to the specific proposals advocated by the veterans group, but declared his wholehearted support for Indiana veterans and veterans issues generally during the group's patriotic program.
"Each and every day, we owe it all — not a lot, not some — but we owe it all to our veterans," Holcomb said.
"The truth is there are millions around the world who have benefited, both directly and indirectly, from the service of the American veteran, because no one group in the history of human civilization has liberated more land and freed more people than the Americans."
The governor said he's pleased that no matter where he travels in the state, from the largest cities to the smallest towns, he always finds a veteran monument or memorial in a prominent place.
"Indiana is ... overflowing with pride for our veterans," Holcomb said.
Dave Hinshaw, a U.S. Army and Indiana National Guard veteran, who co-hosts the Veterans Views radio program on Hammond's WJOB-AM, said he thinks it's good that Indiana's governor is a veteran because it gives Holcomb a better understanding of veterans issues.
"It also means that we have a better chance of getting legislation passed on our behalf," said Hinshaw, who stopped at the Indiana Veterans Home in Lafayette to drop off $700 in donations on his way to the Statehouse.
Charles Bustamante, of Highland, who served 20 years in the Marine Corps and now is vice commander of Highland American Legion Post 180 and Highland VFW 1009, said every effort to aid, in particular, disabled veterans is needed.
"I'm a disabled vet myself, and I see a lot of obstacles I had to get through just to get my benefits," Bustamante said. "Veterans shouldn't have to do that.
"I'm strong-willed, strong-minded so I pushed through it. A lot of people just stop, because they think that nobody is going to help them."
Bustamante said everyone has an obligation to give back to veterans, since veterans, through their service, have given up years of their lives and time with their families to protect and defend their fellow citizens.
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By: Leo Shane III - Military Times
WASHINGTON — Veterans who talk to their doctors about medical marijuana use won’t be hurt by the new Justice Department crackdown on the drug, according to officials at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
But advocates worry the mixed message currently coming from federal officials will further stigmatize use and research into cannabis, potentially shutting down a valuable medical option for ailing veterans.
“We continue to be stuck in this gray zone on policy,” said Nick Etten, founder of the Veterans Cannabis Project. “The reality is this leaves physicians at VA in a compromised position when talking about cannabis. And it’s why veterans in states where it’s legal often don’t get medical cards: fear of prosecution and fear of a loss of benefits.”
On Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo rescinding previous administration policies not to interfere with state laws allowing marijuana use. The substance is still illegal under federal law, even though 29 states have legalized it for medical purposes and eight for recreational use.
The move raised fears that individuals producing, selling or using the drug could face new federal prosecution in places where the industry has thrived.
Lawmakers from states that have legalized the drug blasted Sessions for the change, calling it an unprovoked attack on states. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., said he would put a hold on “every single nomination from the Department of Justice” until the situation is settled.
The move also comes less than a month after updated guidance from the Department of Veterans Affairs encouraging veterans to discuss marijuana use with their VA doctors. Department officials said the move did not amount to any recommendation or endorsement of the drug, but rather an effort to provide a more complete picture of veterans health.
On Friday, VA spokesman Curt Cashour said the new Department of Justice moves should not have an impact on those conversations.
“Whether in VA or the private sector, communications between patients and their health care providers are confidential and privileged,” he said. “While there are some exceptions, those exceptions would not apply to conversations about marijuana use.”
Whether that reassurance convinces more veterans to be honest with their medical providers about marijuana use is a different issue.
“We don’t see this as a sign that the Justice Department is going to start going after individual patients,” said David Mangone, legislative counsel at Americans for Safe Access. “Still, it’s going to have an impact on veterans who think their conversations about marijuana use is going to be recorded in a federal database.”
Mangone called the Justice Department move “an incredible disappointment” and “a big step backwards” in efforts to legalize medical marijuana.
Past studies have shown promise for cannabis in treatment of post-traumatic stress and pain management in veterans, but that research has been limited by strict federal classification of the drug. Groups like the American Legion have pushed for expanded research, but so far President Donald Trump’s administration has not agreed to the move.
A survey of veterans by the Legion last fall found that 92 percent of those polled support expanded medical cannabis research, and 83 percent believe medical cannabis should be federally legal.
In a statement Thursday, House Veterans’ Affairs Committee ranking member Tim Walz, D-Minn., said the new crackdown threat will have “far reaching and profoundly negative consequences on the lives of veterans who depend on medical cannabis” for a variety of injuries.
“It is disappointing to see that while the VA moves in the right direction, however slowly, Attorney General Sessions is determined to take our country backwards,” he said. “(It) risks further facilitating the extremely dangerous and misguided practice of overprescribing opioids, a practice that overwhelming hurts veterans.”
Etten said he is hopeful the move will spur long-stalled legislation in Congress to address the issue.
“It’s not the Department of Justice’s job to handle veterans health issues,” he said. “Congress needs to see this as a call to them to act. This has the potential to be a game-changer for veterans health, but Congress has to take action.”
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