Our previous SITREP reported on our time at the United in Compassion Medicinal Cannabis Symposium in Melbourne. Dr Ian Gardner, Principal Medical Adviser for the Department of Veterans Affairs, accepted an invitation to attend Dr Sue Sisley’s presentation and the panel that followed, Recognising and responding to our frontline heroes (25th June 2017).
Following our brief meeting in Melbourne, we have remained in contact with Dr Gardner and we felt it necessary, in the interest of full disclosure, to share an update with the Veteran and wider community on the department’s stance on medicinal cannabis.
This is what we know:
The Veterans’ Affairs Repatriation Pharmaceutical Reference Committee (RPRC) had a half-day meeting in Canberra on 7th April 2017 to consider medicinal cannabis. The outcome of this “expert” meeting was that until the legislative basis is clear and there are uniform State/Commonwealth laws relating to prescription, supply and administration of medical cannabis, DVA would not be taking a proactive stand on this matter.
“While there is such a confusing mishmash of State and Federal laws, and with little evidence from appropriately controlled trials of clinical effectiveness, our expert advice is that we should not make medical cannabis available to veterans at this stage. This is also consistent with the current advice from Commonwealth Health.”
We have previously been advised by Minister Tehan’s office however, that regardless of when the State/Commonwealth legal issues are resolved, an agreement between the Repatriation Commission and the Military Rehabilitation & Compensation Commission will still be required before DVA can provide this medication in the future.
Dr Gardner confirmed this…
“If and when the medical evidence changes and the legal issues are resolved… our commissions (the Repatriation Commission and the Military Rehabilitation & Compensation Commission) will then consider the policy implications for DVA and Veterans.”
Dr Gardner stresses that this is not a money-saving exercise though…
“As you’re aware, for Veterans with an accepted disability, health care costs are demand-driven and uncapped. So this is NOT a money-saving decision. Once an evidence base is established and the legislative impediments are removed or simplified, we should be able to provide reimbursement for medicinal cannabis as we would for any other medication necessary for the pharmaceutical treatment of any eligible Veteran’s health condition.”
But in the meantime…
“Individual veterans are welcome to put in claims for consideration by DVA. However, based on current expert advice and opinion, it is unlikely that these Medicinal Cannabis expenses would be reimbursed.”
Interestingly, Dr Gardner informs us that the department has only had two formal requests from veterans to fund their imported medicinal cannabis products. Both have been declined.
We believe this very small number reflects exactly how difficult it is for veterans to even reach the stage in the process to be considering applying for reimbursement. Many doctors, specialists and pharmacists are reluctant to become authorised prescribers in this current state of confusion and many veterans have recognised the process to be far too stressful, overly bureaucratic and infuriatingly complex. Which is exactly what the DVA claims process is for many contemporary veterans already!
As the only Ex-Service Organisation advocating for medicinal cannabis in Australia, we are extremely disappointed by the departments lack of urgency in approving cannabis medicine for the increasing epidemic of veterans with treatment-resistant conditions. Cannabis may prove to be the only medication that is effective for treating every symptom cluster of PTSD and rapidly alleviating suicidal thinking.