Top officials in the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) were actively pushing for the agency to conduct more research on medical cannabis’ potential applications for veterans. This was recently revealed by a Freedom of Information Act request filed by an independent journalist, Jasper Craven, in April, and reported on by Tom Angell of Marijuana Moment.
Among the 38 email correspondences obtained by Craven, Marijuana Moment found an email from Jake Leinenkugel, a senior White House advisor for the VA, which was addressed to Surafeal Asgedom, the Executive Director of the Modernization Program Office for the VA.
Leinenkugel’s email, on which a number of other VA officials were CC’d as well, proposes to ask the White House and Congress for “permission to propose legislation to study effects of cannabis on 100% disabled volunteer PTSD Veterans.”
Personnel CC’d on the email correspondence include former VA Chief of Staff Vivieca Wright Simpson, who’s since resigned following ethics violations that turned into a public scandal. Others include Darin Selnick, Veteran Affairs Advisor at White House Domestic Policy Council; Gregory L. Giddens, Executive Director, Office of Acquisition, Logistics, and Construction.
While there is nothing in current law that would prevent the VA from researching or allowing physicians to recommend medical cannabis to veterans, the agency has long upheld an internal directive that accomplishes just this. This directive was issued under David Shulkin, who was fired from his position as Veterans Affairs Secretary in March, and who had played a major part in the VA’s bans on researching or recommending medical cannabis.
This directive has been hugely controversial, especially among many veterans’ claims that medical cannabis helps them treat their PTSD. A number of states, like Minnesota and Colorado, have listed PTSD as a qualifying condition for medical cannabis for years.
“Thousands of Veterans claim their legal/illegal use of cannabis has made dramatic changes in their well-being,” wrote Leinenkugel.“Many claiming it saved their lives and got them off all opioids and most of their prescribed drugs issued by VA.”
The Senate Appropriations Committee recently voted to approve an amendment to the VA’s annual spending bill that would prevent the agency from upholding policies that effectively exclude veterans from state-legal medical cannabis programs. However, the amendment would need to be included in the final version of the bill for it to go into effect.
Leinenkugel is suggesting that the VA asks the White House and Congress for permission to propose legislation with a similar purpose, though his email only specifies research for veterans who are “100% disabled,” and are living with post-traumatic stress disorder. It remains unknown what the outcome of this email correspondence was.
“I would think we would be all for this. You would know better than I would, but I would think the resistance might come from the DOJ/administration,” replied Scott Blackburn to the email, who was an interim deputy secretary at the time and later an acting CIO for the VA. “I agree with you that it is the right thing to do.”