Senator, opponent on different pages when it comes to marijuana for veterans

Matt Saintsing
October 12, 2018 - 3:29 pm

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Wisconsin Democrat US Senator Tammy Baldwin and her GOP opponent State Senator Leah Vukmir offered their visions for the Department of Veterans Affairs at the state's Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Fall Conference Friday, with one glaring difference, marijuana. 

The candidates sketched out starkly different views of the role of cannabis in VA care during the forum. 

Vukmir, a nurse and Wisconsin state senator, said the agency should look for more alternatives for pain management, mentioning chiropractic care and cognitive behavioral therapy.

She did not answer whether she thought the VA should be researching cannabis as a potential remedy for some service-connected ailments.  

“It is a schedule I drug, and I feel strongly about the entire process of how we handle looking at drugs—it is an FDA approval process,” said Vukmir. “And if there are any changes to the schedule of drugs, it should go through them.” 

Photo by Michael Sears / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel-Milwaukee

Baldwin, on the other hand, is very supportive of that research despite the appropriations committee's failure to advance any medical marijuana legislation.

“We’ve had no ability for the VA or other agencies to do this sort of research or being able to research with federal funds.” 

While supportive of medical marijuana research Baldwin was mistaken on whether VA doctors can discuss the possible alternative treatment with patients. “Other states have approved medical marijuana for adult use,” she said. “VA hospitals in those states, despite the state having taken steps to legalize, a VA doctor cannot answer questions that patient may ask about whether they should seek to use medicinal marijuana,” adding “they are gagged.” 

However, a December 2017 policy encourages VA physicians to “discuss with the Veteran marijuana use, due to its clinical relevance to patient care.” It also allows them to “discuss marijuana with any veteran requesting information,” about the substance. 

The candidates didn't only differ in their opinions on cannabis but tended to follow party lines of other veteran-related issues. 

Both were asked their thoughts on funding the VA, and the medical care shortfalls the department will see both in 2019 and 2020.  

Vukmir said she doesn’t “support big government approaches” because they lead to “fewer resources for (veterans)".

Baldwin, however, wants to “get rid of arbitrary budget caps,” suggesting not enough money has been appropriated to fund the VA fully. 

“I find some irony in the fact that nobody asked how we were going to pay for a tax giveaway to multinational corporations and the top one percent, but then say we can’t cover our commitment on veterans’ health before we can figure out how to pay for it,” she said. “It’s beyond irony, its wrong.” 

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