Veterans are awarded several government benefits provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). From healthcare to home loans, these things are rights earned by everyone who has served our country – unless you affiliate with marijuana in any way. Since the first states began legalizing medical marijuana back in the 90s, veterans have been fighting their own war to access the healing plant. Vets can be denied their VA benefits for opting to medicate with medical marijuana – and they must obtain it from state-licensed marijuana doctors on their own dime rather than being able to get a recommendation from their VA doctors.
Vets have even been denied VA Housing Loans (a loan that finances 100% of the home price with no down payment requirement) simply for working in the cannabis industry. Many veterans find employment as security for the cannabis industry, which requires higher than average security not only because of the product itself, but because of the cash-only nature the industry is currently forced into.
“Our nation’s views on marijuana use are changing, and the services have changed their recruitment process accordingly,” Representative Ruben Gallego said. “The services can, where appropriate, grant waivers to former users of marijuana who want to serve their country in uniform.”
The House has introduced multiple amendments in various pieces of legislation attempting to protect veterans from being denied their VA benefits, but few marijuana-related amendments have made it through the House and Senate negotiations.
This past summer, the House passed their draft of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), and in it, they included an amendment that would have protected veterans from being denied VA loans, despite their employment in the legal cannabis industry. In the same bill, they also included an amendment to allow military branches to grant reenlistment waivers to those who have been dismissed after committing a single low-level marijuana offense.
Unfortunately, in the negotiations, these amendments were apparently deemed not as important as some others – and got mixed up with the nearly 1200 changes (roughly 600 to both the House and Senate versions of the bill) that were made before the bill was passed.
It’s disappointing that the rights of veterans can be pushed aside for other changes – even more so that both sides don’t deem it important enough to include in the first place. With so much changing in the way the public views marijuana – and clear changes in Congress as well, based on some of the legislature that has been considered this year – it seems protections for those that served our country would be higher on the priority list.