DAV Magazine — March/April 2018
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President extends mental health care services for veterans

■ President Trump signed an executive order directing the departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security to develop a plan to ensure all veterans have access to mental health care for at least one year following their separation from service.

Executive Order 13822, “Supporting Our Veterans During Their Transition from Uniformed Service to Civilian Life,” requires the departments to develop a joint action plan to ensure the 60 percent of new veterans who separate without access to health care for service-connected medical issues will receive needed mental health care during their transition out of the military.

“As service members transition to veteran status, they face higher risk of suicide and mental health difficulties,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. David J. Shulkin. “During this critical phase, many transitioning service members may not qualify for enrollment in health care. The focus of this executive order is to coordinate federal assets to close that gap.”

The VA will collaborate with the other departments to expand mental health care programs and provide resources to veterans for the year following their separation. Some of the provisions for the first year include:

• Expanding peer community outreach and group sessions in the VA Whole Health initiative from 18 Whole Health flagship facilities to all facilities. Whole Health includes wellness and establishment of individual health goals.

• Extending the DOD’s BeThere Peer Support Call and Outreach Center services to provide peer support for veterans in the year following military separation.

• Expanding the DOD’s Military OneSource to include services for separating service members to one year beyond military separation.

Current VA statistics report that 20 veterans a day commit suicide. With a longer mental health care eligibility window, the executive order aims to bring down that number.

VA doctors allowed to discuss marijuana use

■ The Veterans Health Administration has issued a new directive that will allow veterans and their physicians to speak openly about marijuana use, to include how usage could interact with a veteran’s medications and other aspects of their care.

According to the VA, the new guidance encourages open communication about a veteran’s marijuana use, though VA providers are still not permitted to refer veterans to state-approved medical marijuana programs, since the drug is illegal under federal law.

No VA physician in the country—even in the 29 states and the District of Columbia that allow medical marijuana use—is allowed by law to prescribe medical marijuana to patients. However, in states with legalized medical marijuana policies, doctors may refer patients to state-regulated dispensaries or facilities.

Under the new policy, veterans can speak openly without fear of repercussions as a result of their marijuana use, which will allow VA physicians— including clinical staff and pharmacists—to care for the veterans more effectively.