Can Veterans Affairs take away a vets’ benefits if cannabis is detected?

Can Veterans Affairs take away a vets’ benefits if cannabis is detected?
ABC7 News at 7 Roundtable Discussion - November 28, 2018: Part 1

SARASOTA (WWSB) - There is a lot of misinformation when it comes to Veterans Affairs and marijuana. Many vets have voiced concerns that their benefits could be taken away if they were drug tested and marijuana was found in their system.

These are changing times and many have begun to stray away from western medicine, finding new ways to treat pain and diseases.

Perhaps the one that’s gotten the most push back, medical marijuana. But one group in particular is speaking out to silence the stigma.

Bob Jordan is shouting it from the rooftops.

“This is medicine, this is medicine, please! just think of it as medicine," he said passionately. "Not the tie dyed, hippy listening music, lets get stoned, it’s not that, it’s medicine.”

Jordan has been a pioneer in the fight to legalize medical marijuana since the 1990s.

"My wife got diagnosed with ALS in 1986,” he said.

Soon after, his wife, Cathy Jordan went on vacation and discovered a new treatment for her deteriorating body.

“She smoked this Myakka Gold and she felt her disease stop," Jordan explained. "Her saliva dried up, her walking got better, her talking got better and I said wait a minute, she’s onto something.”

Since that day, the Jordans have been fighting the law as hard as they fight the disease.

“We’ve been trying to help people. It ain’t about us," Jordan said. "I mean people come to talk to us but, we represent in this state, hundreds of thousands of people who would love to have access to cannabis because once they try it, the amazing thing is, it works.”

Now, he’s trying to help veterans like himself, too.

“Veterans have to understand, 100 percent, that the VA cannot take your benefits for using cannabis," Jordan said.

Because the plant was once illegal, many Florida veterans believe that medical marijuana isn’t an option for their health care.

“The people behind the counter, the people you’re talking to, even some of the health care professionals, don’t know this yet,” Jordan said.

Veterans Affairs didn’t have a representative available for an interview, but they did direct ABC7 to their policy online. It says “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.”

At the same time, the policy also says veteran participation in state marijuana programs does not affect eligibility for VA care and services. VA providers can and do discuss marijuana use with veterans as part of comprehensive care planning and adjust treatment plans as necessary.

“It’s changing a lot about me. I can see it in myself and I know other people can see it," said another veteran, Kendra Souza.

This policy has been tested and tried many times by Souza.

“Every time I went in there, I was honest and they knew because they test you,” she explained.

Even though the marijuana showed up in those blood tests, Souza said her benefits were never taken. For her, this was a literal life saver.

“I’ve been a train wreck ever since I retired. I’ve barreled into walls," Souza explained. "I’ve beat myself up, I’ve broke my stuff, I’ve done all kinds of stuff and it’s just, trying to figure out how to deal with life.”

Still suffering from the abuse, PTSD, multiple personality disorder and depression, the only medication that brings Souza relief doesn’t come in a prescription bottle.

“This," Souza said as she showed her medical marijuana. "This reminds me that the only thing that I can do is worry about today. I can’t worry about anything, the only thing that I can do is be in this moment.”

For everything veterans need to know when it comes to Veterans Affairs policy about marijuana, click here.

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