VA Secretary Questioned About Medical Cannabis for Vets

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U.S. Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin yesterday faced a hard line of questioning from the House Appropriations subcommittee, on the VA’s 2019 budget including questions on allowing VA physicians to recommend medical cannabis to patients.

The subcommittee hearing took place amidst increasing controversy surrounding Shulkin, with media outlets speculating that the VA Secretary is on a short list of Trump cabinet members who will soon be replaced. “FOX and Friends Weekend” news personality Pete Hegseth had been named by the Washington Post earlier in the day, as a possible replacement for Shulkin.

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Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif), who represents California’s 13th District including the city of Oakland, addressed Shulkin at the subcommittee:

“You said that [the] VA can’t recommend medical cannabis in accordance with state laws until the Federal laws change.”

“But marijuana’s schedule one status does block formal prescriptions, but it does not block the ability of doctors to fill out questionnaire forms in those states. What’s the problem? What’s the federal law that blocks the VA from doing this and not letting physicians simply recommend cannabis for vets who need it and has proven that it works?” she asked.

“Wouldn’t filling out the questionnaire, isn’t that a step towards prescribing?” Shulkin responded. “It’s my understanding that the Federal law would not allow the physician to write the prescription. So, I have to understand what the questionnaire would be in order to make the recommendation, but not write the prescription.”

Lee told the Secretary she would send him a draft of the questionnaire, which Shulkin said he would review. Lee added, “Veterans need this and it works. It’s a shame and disgrace that the VA is preventing this type of treatment that works.”

Shulkin, who is a physician and ran the Veteran’s Health Administration under President Barack Obama and was unanimously confirmed by Senate last year, to head the VA. Since then, media reports indicate that Shulkin has disagreed with the White House on increased privatization of healthcare services at the VA. When questioned on this issue, Shulkin told the subcommittee he only felt pressure “to fix the system.”

Attention also recently has been drawn to a European trip taken by Shulkin and his wife, during which taxpayer funds were used to pay for the couple’s travel expenses. After news of the trip, rumors of growing instability at the VA involved Shulkin’s apparent distrust of staff members he apparently feels may be trying to sabotage his efforts as secretary.

Subcommittee members also questioned Shulkin about an armed guard that has been placed to protect his office at the agency; Shulkin responded that all Cabinet members have security details or resources provided to them.

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