AS PROMISED, AMERICAN VETERANS GIVEN MUCH NEEDED HEALTH RESOURCES BOOST BY TRUMP ADMINISTRATION

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On September 13, 2018, President Donald Trump signed the Department of Veterans Affairs fiscal 2019 budget into law. The president’s signature gives the VA a funding boost of more than 6 percent and pushes the agency’s total spending to over $200 billion for the first time, says militarytimes.com.

Surrounded by federal officials and local veterans, President Trump finalized the measure at a ceremony held in the North Las Vegas VA Medical Center. He praised the massive spending bill as another promise made good by his administration.

“With this funding bill we have increased the VA’s budget to the largest ever,” militarytimes.com quotes Trump as saying. “We are delivering the resources to implement crucial VA reforms.”

The bill includes $1.1 billion for the start of the VA electronic health records overhaul and $400 million for opioid abuse prevention within the department, both efforts supported by Trump.

These actions are badly needed as health record storage and synchronization within the VA has been atrocious up until this point. As for the opioid epidemic that has killed more Americans than the Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam wars combined? American veterans of foreign wars have been hit harder than average Americans there too.

Veterans are twice as likely as non-veterans to die from accidental overdoses of the highly addictive painkillers, writes Barbara Goldberg at reuters.com. According to federal data, these figures reflect the high levels of chronic pain among vets, particularly those who served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

U.S. government healthcare officials have been struggling to stem the epidemic of overdoses, which killed more than 64,000 Americans in the 12 months ending last January alone, which the Centers for Disease Control sites as a 21 percent increase over the previous year. About 65,000 Americans died in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, Goldberg writes in her reuters.com article entitled, Opioid abuse crisis takes heavy toll on U.S. veterans. This is why the Trump Administration’s work is so important to surviving and disabled veterans. The changes in law give them a fighting chance at survival without torture through the VA healthcare system.

The final deal also includes the $1.75 billion increase in money tied to the VA Mission Act that was passed early this summer. The legislation will rewrite the department’s community care programs, expanding veterans ability to access private health care at taxpayer expense.

PRESIDENT TRUMP THANKED FOR KEEPING PROMISE TO VETERANS

American Veterans were strategic in putting President Trump into the White House power circle and they know he has their back in return. He even said so. “You backed me and I back you, that’s the way it works right?” breitbart.com reports President Trump as telling the veterans in his Las Vegas audience. “That’s the way it’s supposed to work in life.”

The president hailed the success of the VA Choice Act which allows veterans to seek private doctors if they face long lines at the VA facilities.

An American veteran who faced just such a medical dilemma was invited to the podium to speak. His name was Vincent Pitignana, a disabled Vietnam veteran Marine from Las Vegas.

Pitignana spoke of the gratitude veterans have for Trump and the VA Choice Act that allows for disabled veterans to seek medical treatment outside the VA with a private doctor. This is an important step forward in the healthcare treatment of vets and this veteran understands that intimately. He understands veterans will actually have options in the direction they take for their healthcare that go beyond red tape and inadequate VA doctors.

“I must say that I really am impressed that you and your government are focused on making our country’s promise to us a reality because you know what? We earned it,” Pitignana said to Trump. “No longer do they have to stand and wait and not get the proper care… that’s because of you.”

Trump promised to continue supporting veterans and noted that the Veterans Affairs budget was at it’s biggest ever and promoted recent reform legislation to give veterans more choice and to make it easier to fire bad actors in the system.

“We had people that really mistreated our veterans,” breitbart.com quotes President Trump as saying while pointing to “sadists” and “thieves” who used to run the VA system. “They are now being held accountable.”

The letter of the law is returning to American veteran healthcare as it is in greater America and much of that has to do with Trump. “President Trump is the first candidate and the first president to put veterans at the center of his campaign,” Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie says about the president.

The trend cannot stop now. More money has to be dedicated by lawmakers to the healthcare of those brave men and women who fight for our country through the U.S. military and this needs to be done now while our president is in the White House.

BOTTOM LINE

If this all gets cleaned up before 2020, there may be no need for Mr. Trump to come back. But that will mean the swamp is clean and American veterans everywhere, men and women, will have been provided with adequate funding for state of the art health and homecare that so many of them are still missing.

There’s plenty more work to be done. Our veterans need greater healing alternatives than they presently have, that go beyond basic Western Medicine and Big Pharma that they are still dependent upon. The money that President Trump has signed into law in Las Vegas is just the beginning. It only addresses certain although important aspects of what plagues military veterans who still needlessly suffer physically and emotionally in great numbers, but it is a good start.

 

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LAWMAKERS DEMAND DAMAGING SECRET VA NURSING HOME DATA BE RELEASED TO PUBLIC

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Darkness is coming to the surface for senior healthcare. In this instance it’s the Veteran’s Administration, where VA internal quality data documents that were obtained in a USA TODAY/The Boston Globe investigation reveal for the first time that VA nursing homes performed worse on average than private nursing homes on a majority of key measures, including:

  • Reported pain in the last five days
  • Received anti-psychotic medicine, which the FDA has associated with an increased risk of death in elderly dementia patients
  • Experienced marked decrease in abilities to perform daily activities like bathing, eating, and using the bathroom
  • Had a catheter left in their bladder, which can lead to urinary or blood infections and other complications
  • High-risk residents with serious bed sores, which may be prevented by repositioning/cushioning

As a result, several members of Congress have demanded that the Department of Veterans Affairs release a full complement of nursing home data that the agency has kept hidden from public scrutiny for many years.

Donovan Slack of USA TODAY and Andrea Estes of The Boston Globe write at bostonglobe.com that the VA pushed back by downplaying the contrary findings and calling the story “fake news”.

Yet to be released data includes the VA’s underlying quality data, such as rates of infection and injury. Several lawmakers have called for the release of the information immediately.

In a June 18, 2018 article at usatoday.com Slack and Estes describe one of the worst ranked VA nursing homes in the U.S., a place where American veterans are sent by family members in belief they would receive more specialized care, only to find they’ve been turned into “zombies” through the administration of too many anti-psychotic drugs accompanied by too little personal care.

The agency has tracked detailed quality statistics on its nursing homes for years but has kept them from public view, depriving veterans of potentially crucial health care information, the article says.

VA officials argued that the VA nursing home system, overall, “compares closely” with private nursing homes despite caring for typically sicker residents.

The VA’s hospitals have drawn intense criticism for repeated scandals involving health care in recent years, including preventable deaths, but the agency largely has operated its nursing homes with scant public scrutiny.

Internally the agency has long monitored care at its nursing facilities through quality indicators and unannounced inspections and, since 2016, through star rankings based on the indicators. Until now, the USA TODAY article says, it has kept all of these quality measures from the public eye.

Under federal regulations, private nursing homes are required to disclose voluminous data on the care they provide. The federal government uses the data to calculate quality measures and posts them on a federal website, along with inspection results and staffing information. The regulations do not apply to the VA. This information is not available to the public who are in the market looking for veteran’s homes.

But darkness is turning to light. The USA TODAY/The Boston Globe article quotes VA press secretary Curt Cashour as blaming the Obama administration for resisting making quality data public. “But under President Trump’s leadership,” the articles quotes Cashour from a June 12, 2018 statement,” transparency and accountability have become hallmarks of VA.”

Both the Republican-led House and Senate VA committees requested briefings from VA officials following the damning report. Transparency and accountability is what’s coming to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, then the “fake news” won’t matter.

U.S. VETERANS GETTING CLOSER TO ACCESSING MEDICAL MARIJUANA

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The U.S. Congress is making important if not snail-paced strides toward helping to make medical cannabis accessible to military veterans. First, Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) recently reintroduced the Veterans Equal Access Act, which would expand medical cannabis access to eligible veterans.

Secondly, on May 8, 2018, members of the House Veterans Affairs’ Committee approved H.R. 5520. This combined with S. 2796, a Senate companion legislation, that was introduced on May 7, 2018, and referred to the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, would work toward facilitating the necessary research regarding medical marijuana and its affects in treating multiple symptoms suffered by military veterans.

EXPAND VETERANS’ ACCESS

H.R. 1820 would expand medical cannabis access to eligible veterans. In its language The Veterans Equal Access Act authorizes physicians and other health care providers employed by the Department of Veterans Affairs to “provide recommendations and opinions” to veterans “who are residents of States with State marijuana programs” regarding the participation in said medical cannabis programs. The bill further authorizes the VA to complete any forms necessary to reflect such recommendations and opinions.

In further effort to reverse the VA’s decades long attitude against medical cannabis, Representative Blumenauer also filed an amendment that would forbade the VA from utilizing any of the funds derived from this bill for the purpose of prohibiting “VA providers from completing forms seeking recommendations or opinions regarding a Veteran’s participation in a State marijuana program.”

The two bills add up to major steps toward overcoming legal hurdles that have been used to outright prohibit VA doctors from making recommendations to veterans for medical marijuana use, even if compliant under state law.

The above-mentioned legislative attempts to change the law are important because the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department has a lengthy history of withholding support for medicinal cannabis access by military veterans. In October 2017, Tom Angell, writing at marijuanamoment.net, recorded how a new update to the VA’s Website had confirmed the longstanding agency policy of disallowing government physicians from helping veterans qualify for state medical cannabis programs.

“Veterans should know that federal law classifies marijuana – including all derivative products – as a Schedule One controlled substance,” Angell writes of the VA department Website page that can no longer be accessed. “This makes it illegal in the eyes of the federal government. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is required to follow all federal laws including those regarding marijuana. As long as the Food and Drug Administration classifies marijuana as Schedule One VA health care providers may not recommend it or assist Veterans to obtain it.”

The FDA could take forever on that one. Angell wonders what if VA doctors were still allowed to recommend medical cannabis to veterans, even though it is considered illegal under federal law? Wouldn’t that still be a benefit to a veteran’s health if a VA doctor believed as much? And what about the fact that the above referred to VA Website page has been taken down? Might that be proof that the VA is changing their prohibitive stance against medical cannabis?

For many years the VA has thrown up major obstacles to American veterans’ safe access to medicinal cannabis as a treatment option for veterans suffering from PTSD, chronic pain, and other post-war ailments. Yet VA doctors have had no problem prescribing seriously addictive opioids that have been attributed to thousands of American deaths. It’s time for this treatment model to change. Our veterans deserve the opportunity to exercise their free will and have more equal treatment from their treating physicians who know them best, to wit their VA doctors.

What is important for the VA administrators and doctors to understand is that we are talking about “recommendations” or “opinions” of VA doctors for the use of medicinal cannabis. We are not talking about prescriptions. The law is very clear in states and nationally. No physician in the United States, whether paid by the U.S. government or in private practice, can prescribe pot to patients. It’s against the law because the prescription process is federally-regulated and cannabis currently falls under the Controlled Substances Act’s restrictive Schedule I. Schedule I drugs are those considered to have a high potential for abuse without any currently accepted medical value.

Even with marijuana’s Schedule I status, there is nothing in federal law that prevents VA from allowing its doctors to recommend or give their opinion on their patients’ usage of medicinal cannabis in the states where it is legal to do so. It’s now time for VA doctors to do so as well.

THE STUDIES MUST BE DONE

The medicinal cannabis studies have to be done, for the benefit of military veterans and the greater civilian public, and H.R. 5520 is a good place to start. This new legislation seeks to authorize and instruct the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to research medical marijuana for use in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain in American soldiers returning from war.

As ordered and reported by the House Committee on Veterans Affairs on May 8, 2018, H.R. 5520, The Veterans Affairs Medicinal Cannabis Research Act of 2018, would act to codify VA’s existing authority to conduct such research. On that basis, CBO estimates that implementing H.R. 5520 would cost less than $500,000 over the 2019-2023 period, primarily to prepare and submit the necessary reports to the Congress. That spending would be subject to the availability of appropriated funds.

FACILITATE MEDICAL MARIJUANA RESEARCH

The road to progress has not always been paved for success by the VA, which is another reason S. 2796, the Senate companion bill to H.R. 5520, was introduced in Senate on May 7, 2018, after which it was referred to the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. Regarding The VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act of 2018, this bill (1) authorizes the VA to conduct and support research on the efficacy and safety of certain forms of cannabis and cannabis delivery for veterans enrolled in the VA health care system diagnosed with conditions such as chronic pain or post-traumatic stress disorder, and (2) Collected data shall be preserved in a manner that facilitates further research.

SOLUTIONS

The bottom line is the VA must act to change the internal prohibition of medical access for veterans to cannabis. Congress will have to continue to force the issue if the VA isn’t going to do anything to help veterans have access to medicinal cannabis.

House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Phil Roe, M.D. calls the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act of 2018 a “pragmatic and bipartisan piece of legislation that would advance our understanding of the impacts of medicinal marijuana usage and could improve the lives of veterans and other Americans.” But it’s just a start. We need to push harder for federal government evolution on the issue of medicinal cannabis research and access for military veterans.

The government must permit VA medical providers to be able to discuss with U.S. veterans the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes and to be able to give recommendations and opinions in those states where medical marijuana laws exist.

We need to keep pushing for rescheduling of marijuana.

The VA needs to stop blocking federally-approved researchers from recruiting veterans for research on medical cannabis.

Studies must be performed regarding medicinal cannabis’ effects on veterans with PTSD issues. Such studies need to be performed and veterans must be given access to them.