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'It's an urban legend': Veterans who use marijuana do not lose VA benefits

VA doctors are not allowed to prescribe or encourage patients to use medical marijuana… but they say it's important to know if a patient is using it.

(NEWS CENTER Maine) -- With the Legislature’s override of Governor Paul LePage’s veto of LD 1539, medical marijuana caregivers and patients are looking forward to expanded access to the drug.

Patients can now get medical marijuana so long as a doctor deems it medically beneficial.

Veterans receive federal benefits for health care through the Veterans Administration. Marijuana is still illegal federally. Regardless, the VA does not take away benefits from veterans who admit to using marijuana.

Many veterans are turning to medical marijuana to replace opiates for relief from chronic pain.

”It’s not that I Was ever addicted, I just didn’t like the feelings they gave me -- like a zombie – zoned out." said Lou Larios, a former Petty Officer First Class in the Navy. ”I had pain issues – my doctor was okay with it.”

"It could open the door to a whole new avenue of how to treat the addiction epidemic that we’ve got currently going on in this state," said Dawson Julia, who works for Compassionate Caregivers of Maine, an organization of medical marijuana caregivers.

VA doctors say patients who use medical marijuana will not lose their benefits, but doctors say that could impact their other prescriptions like opioids.

”Since there are no good studies that compare the two drugs together, we generally prefer for people not to take both of them," said Dr. Stephen Sears, chief of staff at the Togus V.A. ”We look at it medically and say we need to take care of somebody’s medical problems. We, from the medical side, need to know, and the benefits people don’t take things away.”

VA doctors are not allowed to prescribe or encourage medical marijuana for patients, but Dr. Sears said it is critical that doctors know what their patients are taking.

"I really encourage them to have the conversation though, because from a medical providers' standpoint, we need to know everything that someone is using. We need to make the best decisions medically with everyone who is coming to see us," said Dr. Sears.

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