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VA Secretary: Agency Should be 'Open' to Medical Marijuana to Help Vets

WASHINGTON – Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said he is “interested” in examining data and studies on medical marijuana as a potential way to prevent veteran suicide.

Shulkin also said he is “very concerned” about the military-civilian divide in America compared to countries like Israel.

“With 0.8 percent of our population now serving, we have many, many American families who don’t even know people who have served or are currently in the military and don’t understand what I’ve had the privilege of understanding as secretary about the tremendous commitment that not only these young men and women give when they go off to serve their country, but their entire family gives when they go off to serve,” Shulkin said Friday at a George W. Bush Presidential Center event at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“So, part of our responsibility at the VA and so many of our community groups is to make sure that we let people know about not only what these men and women do when they raise their hand and protect our country, but what our responsibility is as a country to them, not only when they go off to conflict but when they come back,” he added.

Shulkin cited Israel as an example of a nation where local communities better understand the sacrifices made by those who serve and the challenges they face.

“We learn a lot by looking at other countries,” he said. “I’m thinking in particular where everybody in the country serves in a country like Israel, you do not see so many of the problems when people come back with emotional or invisible wounds of war because everybody around them understands, so they have a built-in network where most families have somebody who serves. So the community understands.”

“I think what happens here is people return and, except for fellow veterans, most people around them in work and their life don’t understand what they’re going through, so I think that we have to do a much better job of getting people in the country to understand how they can support our veterans when they return,” he added.

Israeli citizens 18 years and older are required to complete two years of either military or civilian service.

Shulkin explained that the VA faces a $50 billion “capital deficit,” which he said can’t be addressed overnight. He told the audience that 450 of the VA’s buildings were built during the Revolutionary and Civil wars.

“We have 1,100 vacant and underutilized buildings and what I have said is I have a plan to essentially get rid of vacant and underutilized facilities. I want the ability to take those resources and invest them back in the VA,” he said.