Veterans Push for Medical Marijuana in Conservative South

Veterans Push for Medical Marijuana in Conservative South

RALEIGH, N.C. — Each time Chayse Roth drives home to North Carolina, he notices the highway welcome signs that declare: “Nation’s Most Military Friendly State.”

“That’s a powerful thing to claim,” said Roth, a former Marine Corps gunnery sergeant who served multiple deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Now he says he’s calling on the state to live up to those words. A Wilmington resident, Roth is advocating for lawmakers to pass a bill that would legalize medical marijuana and allow veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and other debilitating conditions to use it for treatment.

Originally published in Kaiser Health News.

“I’ve lost more men to suicide since we went to Afghanistan in ’01 than I have in combat,” said Roth, who said he doesn’t use cannabis himself but wants others to have the option. “It’s just unacceptable for these guys to go overseas and win the battle and come home and lose the battle to themselves.”

He is among several veterans brought together by a recently formed advocacy group called NC Families for Medical Cannabis. These veterans have testified before the legislature and visited lawmakers individually.

In a state that’s home to eight military basesone of the largest veteran populations in the country and a Republican-controlled legislature that prides itself on supporting the troops, they hope their voices will act as a crucial lever to push through a bill that has faced opposition in the past.

“If we really want to be the most veteran-friendly state in the union, this is just another thing we can do to solidify that statement,” Roth said.

From California to Massachusetts, veterans have been active in the push for medical marijuana legalization for decades. But now, as the movement focuses on the remaining 14 states that have not enacted comprehensive medical marijuana programs or full marijuana legalization, their voices may have outsize influence, experts say.

Many of these remaining states are in the traditionally conservative South and dominated by Republican legislatures. “The group carrying the message here makes a huge difference,” said Julius Hobson Jr., a former lobbyist for the American Medical Association who now teaches lobbying at George Washington University. “When you’ve got veterans coming in advocating for that, and they’re considered to be a more conservative bunch of folks, that has more impact.”

Veterans also have the power of numbers in many of these states, Hobson said. “That’s what gives them clout.”

Successes are already evident. In Texas and Louisiana, veterans played a key role in the recent expansion of medical marijuana programs. In Mississippi, they supported a successful ballot initiative for medical cannabis in 2020, though the result was later overturned by the state Supreme Court. And in Alabama, the case of an out-of-state veteran arrested and jailed for possession of medical marijuana incited national outrage and calls for legalization. The state legalized medical marijuana earlier this year.

To be sure, not every veteran supports these efforts, and the developments in red states have been influenced by other factors: advocacy from cancer patients and parents whose children have epilepsy, lawmakers who see this as a states’ rights issue, a search for alternative pain relief amid the opioid epidemic and a push from industries seeking economic gains.

But the attention to the addiction and suicide epidemics among veterans, and calls to give them more treatment options, are also powerful forces.

In states like North Carolina, where statewide ballot initiatives are banned, veterans can kick-start a conversation with lawmakers who hold the power to make change, said Garrett Perdue, the son of former North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue and a spokesperson for NC Families for Medical Cannabis and CEO of Root Bioscience, a company that makes hemp products.

“It fits right in with the general assembly’s historical support of those communities,” Perdue said. “For [lawmakers] to hear stories of those people that are trusted to protect us and enforce the right of law” and see them as advocates for this policy “is pretty compelling.”Gary Hess (left) and Chayse Roth have testified at North Carolina Legislature hearings advocating for a bill to legalize medical marijuana ― primarily as a treatment for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.(ROB RENS)

Gary Hess, a Marine Corps veteran from Louisiana, said he first realized the power of his platform in 2019, when he testifiedin front of the state legislature about seeing friends decapitated by explosions, reliving the trauma day-to-day, taking a cocktail of prescription medications that did little to help his symptoms and finally finding relief with cannabis. His story resonated with lawmakers who had served in the military themselves, Hess said.

He recalled one former colonel serving in the Louisiana House telling him: “They’re not going to say no to a veteran because of the crisis you’re all in. As someone who is put together well and can tell the story of marijuana’s efficacy, you have a powerful platform.”

Hess has since started his own nonprofit to advocate for medical marijuana legalization and has traveled to other state and national events, including hearings before the North Carolina legislature.

“Once I saw the power my story had,” he said, “the goal became: How do I expedite this process for others?”

Experts trace the push for medical marijuana legalization back to the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and ’90s, particularly in California’s Bay Area.

As the movement tried to expand, medical marijuana activists realized other regions were not as sympathetic to the LGBTQ community, said Lee Hannah, an associate professor of political science at Wright State University who is writing a book about the rise of legal marijuana in the U.S. They had to find “more target populations that evoke sympathy, understanding and support,” Hannah said.

Over time, the medical marijuana conversation grew from providing symptom relief for patients with AIDS to include such conditions as cancer, pediatric epilepsy and PTSD, Hannah and his colleagues noted in a 2020 research paper. With each condition added, the movement gained wider appeal.

“It helped change the view of who a marijuana user is,” said Daniel Mallinson, a co-author on the 2020 paper and the upcoming book with Hannah, and an assistant professor at the Penn State-Harrisburg School of Public Affairs. “That makes it more palatable in these legislatures where it wouldn’t have been before.”

In 2009, New Mexico became the first state to make PTSD patients eligible for medical marijuana. The condition has since been included in most state medical marijuana programs.

The movement got another boost in 2016 when the American Legion, a veterans organization with 1.8 million members known for its conservative politics, urged Congress to remove marijuana from its list of prohibited drugs and allow research into its medical uses.

“I think knowing an organization like the American Legion supports it frankly gives [lawmakers] a little bit of political cover to do something that they may have all along supported but had concerns about voter reaction,” said Lawrence Montreuil, the group’s legislative director.

In Texas, when the Republican governor recently approved a law expanding the state’s limited medical marijuana program, he tweeted: “Veterans could qualify for medical marijuana under new law. I will sign it.”

It’s smart political messaging, Hannah said. Elected officials “are always looking to paint laws they support in the most positive light, and the approval rate of veterans is universally high.”

Nationally, veteran-related marijuana bills seem to be among the few cannabis-related reforms that have gained bipartisan support. Bills with Democratic and Republican co-sponsors in Congress this session deal with promoting research into medical marijuana treatment for veterans, allowing Veterans Affairs doctors to discuss cannabis with patients in states where it is legal and protecting veterans from federal penalization for using state-legalized cannabis.

Rep. Dave Joyce (R-Ohio), who has co-sponsored two bipartisan bills concerning veterans and medical marijuana this session, said the interest of veterans is “what drew me to cannabis in the first place.”

In North Carolina, veterans like Roth and Hess, along with various advocacy groups, continue to drum up support for the medical marijuana bill. They know it’s a long battle. The bill must clear several Senate committees, a full Senate vote and then repeat the process in the House. But Roth said he’s optimistic “the veteran aspect of it will be heavily considered by lawmakers.”

An early indication of that came at a Senate committee hearing earlier this summer. Standing at the podium, Roth scrolled through his phone to show lawmakers how many of his veteran contacts were now dead due to suicide. Other veterans testified about the times they had contemplated suicide and how the dozens of prescription medications they had tried before cannabis had done little to quiet those thoughts.

The hearing room was silent as each person spoke. At the end, the lawmakers stood and gave a round of applause “for those veterans who are with us today and those who are not.”

The bill later passed that committee with a nearly unanimous vote.

VA Health Facilities are Seeking Transitioning Service Women and Health Providers

VA Health Facilities are Seeking Transitioning Service Women and Health Providers

Every VAMC has a designated women Veterans program manager to help women Veterans access VA benefits and health services

Women are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. Veteran population, and we’re ready to provide them with high-quality health care delivered by dedicated women’s health providers.

To encourage servicewomen who are transitioning out of the military or are new Veterans to enroll in VA health care, we’ve kicked off a new, online women’s health transition training program. The training provides a detailed look at all of the VA health services and programs available to women Veterans. The program also covers information about eligibility, how to enroll in VA health care, and how to connect with other women Veterans.

The training is designed to complement VA’s Transition Assistance Program (TAP) and is based on an in-person and virtual program started as a joint effort between VA and the Department of Defense.

Some of the health services available to women Veterans include reproductive care, maternity care, cancer screenings, whole health and mental health services for issues including military sexual trauma, domestic violence, post-deployment adjustment and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Every VA medical center (VAMC) has a designated women Veterans program manager to help women Veterans access VA benefits and health care services. Each VAMC also has a health care professional available by phone 24/7 to answer health-related questions and offer advice.

Advancing women’s health

A lot has been happening on the women’s health front at VA, which increases our need for professionals in this field. For instance, we’re partnering with other federal agencies, academic institutions and private health care companies to improve prevention, treatment and outcomes for women Veterans with cancer. We created the Women’s Health Mini-Residency for Primary Care Rural Providers and Nurses. The program aims to increase skills related to women’s health among nurses and providers serving rural communities. Research on women Veterans’ health is expanding, and deployment and post-deployment health research is now a major part of the VA women’s health research portfolio.

We’re also actively recruiting more health care providers with expertise in women’s health to participate in these initiatives and help serve the growing number of women Veterans seeking care.

Dual mission

If you want to serve Veterans and are interested in promoting and protecting women’s health, VA is the place for you! Not only will you get to fulfill a rewarding dual mission and win the gratitude of Veterans you care for, you will:

  • Receive excellent benefits, including a generous health care and retirement plan.
  • Have opportunities to advance your education and career with financial support from VA.
  • Be able to contribute to innovations and research that improve the health and quality of life for all Veterans.
  • Work for one of the nation’s top large employers.

Work at VA

We need top-notch health care providers to care for our women Veterans’ health needs. If this describes you:

Take Advantage of Protected Training Time Through VA’s Nurse Residency Program

Take Advantage of Protected Training Time Through VA’s Nurse Residency Program

New nurses can say good-bye to first-job jitters knowing they’ll have a year of dedicated time to train, learn and grow through VA’s nurse residency program.

Instead of typical on-the-job training, participants in the program have 100% protected training time for 12 months. Hundreds of nurses at more than 100 residency programs across the nation go through the program each year.

The only nursing traineeship model of its kind, our Office of Academic Affiliations (OAA) Nurse Residency Program is designed to help newly licensed registered nurses (RNs) and nurse practitioners (NPs) prepare to address the unique health care needs of Veterans.

“What benefited me the most from doing the OAA RN residency was the ability to ease myself into practice at a controlled pace while simultaneously learning additional skills,” said residency graduate Nathaniel Cline, BSN, RN, who is now a surgical intensive care unit nurse at Birmingham VA Medical Center.

Ease the Transition

The program is “a bridge from a solid academic foundation to clinical practice, and it allows new nurses to focus on identifying their strengths and weaknesses, and enhance their skills and knowledge,” said Director of Nursing Education Jemma Ayvazian, DNP, ANP-BC, AOCNP.

Graduates leave the program as competent, confident health care professionals with the “knowledge and skills to successfully practice in today’s complex, fast-paced health care environment,” Ayvazian said.

Though it’s not required, most decide to stay at VA when their residency is complete.

Now a medical/hematology/oncology nurse at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center, Kelsey Greuel, BSN, RN, not only stayed on at VA, but quickly moved into leadership roles. She now serves as Nurse Executive Council RN co-chair.

“The OAA RN residency program provided me with the tools and experiences I needed to become a well-rounded nurse, find my passion in nursing and introduced me to lifelong friends,” she said.

Supportive Atmosphere

Outside their residency, nurses will find a culture of support and camaraderie throughout VA. The residency program wasn’t in place when Ayvazian began her nursing career, but helpful mentors at VA were there to guide her.

“VA has the most diverse and dedicated team of health professionals, and I am honored and proud to serve shoulder-to-shoulder with them,” she said.

At VA, nurses are a key part of health care teams united by a common mission – serving the nation’s heroes.

“I never considered working anywhere else. Working at VA is more than just a place of employment for me; it has a deeper purpose and meaning,” said Ayvazian, who is married to a service-connected disabled Operation Iraqi Freedom Veteran.

Work at VA

Ease your transition into your first job with VA’s nursing residency program.

12 Reasons to Consider a VA Career as a Long-term Care Nurse

12 Reasons to Consider a VA Career as a Long-term Care Nurse

Working as a long-term care nurse at VA, you’ll help provide a home away from home for Veterans needing around-the-clock skilled nursing care


VA’s community living centers are a home away from home for Veterans in need of around-the-clock skilled nursing and medical care.

At more than 100 centers across the nation, we help Veterans get back on their feet, care for those suffering from dementia and other cognitive issues, and provide palliative and end-of-life care.

Working as a long-term care nurse with this unique patient population is a career that comes with plentiful rewards.

“Long-term care nursing is a specialty. Being in this trusted position as a long-term care health care worker is to be at the forefront of health care delivery,” said Melissa Lasley, RN, nurse recruiter for the VA Maine Healthcare System.

Consider a VA career

Lasley doesn’t just have one reason to consider a career caring for Veterans at one of our community living centers – she has 12 of them.

  1. It’s rewarding. “After finishing a day of work in dementia care, I leave my shift knowing I made a difference in the residents’ quality of life. At times, it feels rewarding in small ways, like de-escalating an anxious resident or engaging them in an intervention. Other times, it’s by being with the resident during their final hours and helping them to connect with family members. In all ways, big and small, we make a difference.”
  2. It’s refreshing. “Residents have often given up caring about what people think and, therefore, say exactly what they mean.”
  3. It’s entertaining. “They have amazing stories. Even Veterans with relatively advanced dementia can recall events from distant past, and it can be good for them to do so, so just ask.”
  4. It’s important work. “As of 2017, the number of Veterans living with dementia was more than 750,000. An estimated 420,000 additional cases were diagnosed between 2010 and 2020. This is a critical mass of heroes, each of whom deserves quality care.”
  5. It’s an honor. “When working with seniors, we often come across those who have lived through loss, immigrations, wars and much more. With all their life history, I always feel thankful and honored that I am entrusted to get to know them and provide the best possible care I can.”
  6. It’s challenging. “Working with clients with dementia is something that not only requires experience and training but continued professional development over time. There is so much to learn about working with this population and room for continued improvement.”
  7. It’s a specialty. “Nurses can develop a sense of pride in becoming an expert in geriatric care, just as they can with any other specialty. When an elderly patient experiences trauma, goes into anaphylactic shock or contracts a urinary tract infection, the clinical picture is far different from that of a 30-year-old. Having the knowledge to quickly assess and treat problems can drastically improve the quality of life for our Veterans.”
  8. It’s a learning opportunity. “Veterans teach us from the moment we first meet. Often, it is just by being witness to their story. Other times, Veterans take on a teacher-like role, which may help them feel empowered, autonomous or a reconnection with their sense of self. From my work in dementia care, I’ve learned that I shouldn’t take life so seriously, laughter and humor are key, courage can always be found, and feeling connected is everything.”
  9. It’s about the moment. “The reality of working with Veterans who have dementia is they may not recall working with you or having met you the week prior. This means our goals and objectives often need to pertain to a resident’s quality of life within the given moment rather than from week to week.”
  10. It’s all about connection. “Building a trusting therapeutic relationship with resident Veterans is of key importance, and building a connection sometimes takes more than verbal interactions. A typical conversation is not always possible. Sometimes, connection is accomplished simply through a calming presence and a gentle approach.”
  11. It’s someone’s parent. “Yes, this is sentimental, but the Veteran geriatric population have some miles on them. They may have fought in wars, raised families and experienced loss. Call it karma or responsibility, but when I care for geriatric Veterans, I hope when my family members grow old and sick, someone takes good care of them too.”
  12. It’s thought-provoking. “Making connections with Veterans who have dementia is about much more than following rules and standards on building rapport; it’s about an intuitive feeling they perceive from your intentions when you approach. After caring for many within the geriatric population and likely attending their deaths, it’s difficult not to be drawn into wondering what amends, regrets and triumphs YOU will have at the end of your life.”

Cutting edge of care

If you need a 13th reason to pursue a career in long-term care nursing at VA, consider this: our community living centers are on the forefront of change.

VA Maine and many other centers are transitioning to a more patient-centered culture based on the needs and preferences of Veterans. At VA Maine, they will be breaking ground soon on a “small house,” similar to the Green House models adopted at some of our other community living centers.

These cozy buildings are designed to house small groups of Veterans and include community kitchens and dining rooms, private rooms and bathrooms, and ample outdoor living space.

“All are an important part of the holistic approach to caring for our Veterans, providing a home setting they are comfortable and proud to live in,” Lasley said.

Work at VA

Give back to a generation of Veterans who has provided so much for their country. Explore a long-term care nursing position with VA.

NOTE: Positions listed in this post were open at the time of publication. All current available positions are listed at USAJobs.gov.

Celebrate National Nurses Month with VA and Explore a New Nursing Career

Celebrate National Nurses Month with VA and Explore a New Nursing Career

In honor of National Nurses Month and in celebration of VHA’s 75th anniversary, VA thanks its nurses and highlights nursing career opportunities

VA nurses make a profound impact on the lives of Veterans every day – and this has never been truer than during the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This May, in honor of National Nurses Month and in celebration of VHA’s 75th anniversary, we’d like to thank our team of more than 112,439 nurses.

“Our nurses have made extraordinary personal and professional sacrifices while providing heroic service to Veterans over the past year, going above and beyond to care for those in need during a global pandemic,” said Darren Sherrard, associate director of VA recruitment marketing.

By delivering the highest quality care to Veterans every day, they give us 112,400 plus reasons to celebrate this momentous occasion. Need another reason to celebrate? It could be you. Choose a nursing career at VA and make a lasting difference for Veterans today.

The heart and soul of VA

Nurses are at the center of VA care. We could not provide patient-centered, high-quality health care to millions of Veterans without the dedication and hard work of these invaluable medical professionals.

They work across disciplines and in all treatment settings, including hospitals, ambulatory and skilled nursing. They play a critical role on our Patient Aligned Care Teams (PACTs), helping coordinate the full spectrum of patient care. And they do it with compassion and capability that lifts the spirits of their patients.

We encourage nurses to advance in their careers and contribute to our culture of improvement and innovation. Nurses often rise to leadership positions, helping create new models of care, introducing new nursing roles and advancing existing ones. There are plentiful opportunities for nurses to collaborate with colleagues – sharing tools, evidence-based practices and the lessons they’ve learned.

“Each day I am honored to use the advanced expertise I have attained, as well as continuously seek new knowledge to fulfill our vision of advancing nursing and transforming health care,” said Heather Arredondo, DHA, RN, VHA-CM, program manager for professional standards boards in VA’s Office of Nursing Services.

Rich rewards

As a VA nurse, you’ll discover more than a job – you’ll discover a mission of service. You’ll enjoy a fulfilling career with competitive pay, perks and rewards that only add to the satisfaction of giving back to those who have given so much to our country.

You’ll have unparalleled opportunities for professional growth and plentiful chances to positively impact health care. In addition to the chance to move into a leadership role, you can advance your education, mentor and be mentored, and conduct research.

Other benefits include robust health insurance (including vision and dental), life and long-term care insurance, student loan reimbursement, continuing education and generous retirement. We also offer flexible scheduling, a generous leave plan and paid family leave for new parents.

What’s more, with one active, unrestricted U.S. license, you can practice anywhere in the country and move VA locations without losing any benefits or accumulated leave.

Work at VA

Are you ready to help us heal and care for Veterans so they can thrive in life after military service? Apply for a job as a VA nurse.

NOTE: Positions listed in this post were open at the time of publication. All current available positions are listed at USAJobs.gov.

Advance Your Nursing Career with Financial Support from the VA

Advance Your Nursing Career with Financial Support from the VA

For Debbie Sommer, being a VA nurse has paid off, both personally and professionally.

Throughout nursing school, Sommer always knew she wanted to work at VA. She happily realized that goal in 1999, when the Miami VA Healthcare System hired her as a registered nurse (RN) for its spinal cord injury (SCI) unit. With a National Nursing Education Initiative (NNEI) scholarship and mentor support from VA, Sommer, who graduated with an associate’s degree in nursing, set out to advance her education and career. Two NNEI scholarships later, she had earned a Master of Science in nursing and now works as chief nurse for operations at the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System.

VA Nurse Debbie Sommer, RN, BSN.

At VA, we know that helping employees advance their education and careers not only benefits them personally and professionally but also enhances the exceptional care we provide the nation’s Veterans. That’s why we have education support programs like NNEI and encourage employees to take advantage of them. After a year as a VA employee, Sommer qualified for an NNEI scholarship, with which she earned her Bachelor of Science in nursing (BSN).

Much-needed support

“As a single mother with a new nursing career, this NNEI scholarship alleviated the financial stress and afforded me the opportunity to advance my clinical knowledge and obtain a BSN,” said Sommer. “While attending school, VA assigned me a mentor, who coached me along the way.”

Through the NNEI scholarship program, RNs who work part-time or full-time at VA for at least one year can receive up to $41,572 tax free toward the cost of higher education, including tuition, registration fees and books. In return, scholarship recipients agree to work in a VA career for one to three years.

After serving as an SCI nurse, home-based primary care nurse and home telehealth nurse, Sommer accepted a position as a quality nurse management specialist. While in this role, she applied for and received a second NNEI scholarship, which she used to earn her master’s degree in nursing administration.

In addition to being continuously employed at VA for one year before applying, NNEI scholarship applicants must:

Following positions as a primary care case manager and nurse manager, Sommer accepted her current role as chief nurse. Having the flexibility to relocate increased her opportunities for career advancement, and she appreciates VA’s investment in her career.

“My NNEI scholarship showed VA believed in me by investing in my professional development,” she said. “My VA mentors provided insight and helped me grow professionally. I am grateful to VA and the NNEI scholarship program for helping me advance my career and providing me with the tools to deliver the best care to our Veterans.”

Work at VA

Financial support and professional guidance to advance your career helps you fulfill the noble mission of caring for our nation’s Veterans. Only VA can offer you that. Start planning your next career move today at vacareers.va.gov.

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