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Marines In Japan Are Starting The Year Off With Some Major Helo Problems

Posted: 08 Jan 2018 02:31 PM PST

A Marine Corps AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter made an emergency landing Monday on the Japanese island of Okinawa, the Associated Press reports — the second rotary-wing aviation incident for Japan-based Marines since the beginning of the year, and the fourth in a month.

The AH-1 landed in what the Associated Press called "a field at a waste disposal site" in the small town of Yomitan after a warning light alerted the two Marines on board to a potential problem with the helicopter. The Marines told Japanese officials that the descent was a  "preventive landing," according to Stars and Stripes.

The incident came just two days after a rotor issue forced Marine Corps UH-1Y Venom helicopter to make an emergency landing on the small Okinawan island of Ikeijima "after indications that the main rotor was moving at too high a speed," the Associated Press reported on Jan. 7.

The emergency landing is also the fourth aviation incident for Marines stationed in Japan in just over a month. On Dec. 7, the window of a Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallions detached from the aircraft and plummeted onto an Okinawa nursery school; earlier that week, another part from a separate Marine helicopter fell from the sky onto a nearby kindergarten.

Japanese authorities were furious after the incidents, with Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga stating that it was "unforgivable" that the incidents nearly killed innocent schoolchildren. But while the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing claimed the nursery school incident was the result of "human error" and pledged to immediately inspect its airframes, the recent emergency landings will likely further fray the nerves of anxious residents.

Related: The Marine Corps' Aviation Mishap Crisis Is Only Getting Worse »

The grounded Sea Cobra is the latest in a worsening string of Marine aviation mishaps that have wracked the force in the past year. According to the Naval Safety Center, the Marine Corps endured 10 Class A flight mishaps in 2017, the highest rate the branch had recorded in 15 years. The worst incident in came last July, when a KC-130 transporting Marines, sailors, and equipment from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in North Carolina to Naval Air Facility El Centro in California exploded in mid-air over Mississippi, killing the 15 Marines — including six from the Corps' Special Operations Command — and one Navy corpsman on board.

The concentration of rotary wing incidents in the skies above Japan doesn't bode well for a fresh start to 2018. In the aftermath of the Jan. 8 incident, Marine 2nd Lt. Gregory Cronen told Stars and Stripes in a statement that the Corps "care[s] deeply for the safety of both our pilots and crew in our aircraft as well as the communities around which we operate." Something tells me the residents of Okinawa think otherwise.

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The post Marines In Japan Are Starting The Year Off With Some Major Helo Problems appeared first on Task & Purpose.

This Former Parris Island Drill Instructor Is Being Separated From The Corps. Here’s Why

Posted: 08 Jan 2018 02:31 PM PST

The last of the former Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island drill instructors implicated in perhaps the most notorious trainee abuse scandal the Corps has seen in more than six decades has pleaded guilty to multiple violations of military code and is being separated from the service.

Sgt. Michael Eldridge pleaded guilty to failing to obey an order, disorderly conduct and maltreatment, according to the Corps, for his part in a July 2015 incident during which he, among other things, was accused of hazing a Muslim recruit by ordering him into a commercial clothes dryer and turning on the machine multiple times. Eldridge was alleged to have interrogated the recruit, Ameer Bourmeche, about his loyalty and to have made him renounce his faith before allowing him to exit the dryer.

Implicated in the same incident was former-Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Felix, who in October was sentenced to 10 years in prison and a dishonorable discharge after a court-martial found him guilty of abusing Bourmeche — now a lance corporal — and former trainee Raheel Siddiqui just before his death in March 2016.

Eldridge entered his plea during a summary court-martial at an undisclosed date. He was reduced in rank to corporal, given 45 days restriction and, according to the Corps, is in the process of being administratively separated from the Marines.

The summary court-martial, a low-level proceeding, was part of a pre-trial agreement that required him to testify against Felix, who last fall faced general court-martial — the highest-level military court — at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C.

During Felix's trial, government prosecutors painted him as a sadist with a pattern of targeting Muslim trainees, including Rekan Hawez — who also testified Felix ordered him into a dryer — Bourmeche and Siddiqui.

Siddiqui, 20, a Muslim and Pakistani-American from Taylor, Mich., died March 18, 2016, after falling three stories from his barracks following an altercation with Felix while trying to request permission to go to sickbay.

Felix was found to have made Siddiqui — who was reportedly had an extremely sore throat and had recently coughed up blood — perform a series of punitive exercises and, after the recruit collapsed, to have stood over him and struck him in the face. Moments later, Siddiqui reportedly jumped up, ran out the back door of his barracks and fell from a stairwell to the ground below.

Investigations of the incident spawned a hazing probe at Parris Island that uncovered further misconduct by drill instructors and supervision failures by senior leadership.

The scandal that ensued was arguably the biggest since 1956, when a Parris Island drill instructor was prosecuted after he led an unauthorized, punitive nighttime march into Ribbon Creek, where six recruits drowned.

Felix and Eldridge were the fifth and sixth, respectively, drill instructors to be referred to courts-martial in the wake of the probe.

And Lt. Col. Joshua Kissoon is still scheduled to face general court-martial beginning March 12 at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Marine Training and Education Command spokesman Capt. Joshua Pena said Monday morning. Kissoon is charged with failing to sideline Felix, who the Corps says should not have been supervising Siddiqui's training platoon because he was already being investigated for the dryer incidents.

Kissoon formerly led 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, which housed Kilo Company, Platoon 3042 — Siddiqui's unit, led by then senior drill instructor Felix.

On March 31, 2016, the depot announced Kissoon had been relieved of command, a decision the Corps says was made the day before Siddiqui's death.

Siddiqui's family has filed a $100 million federal lawsuit claiming negligence on behalf of the government.

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©2018 The Island Packet (Hilton Head, S.C.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

The post This Former Parris Island Drill Instructor Is Being Separated From The Corps. Here’s Why appeared first on Task & Purpose.

This Is One Of US Military Planners’ Greatest Fears In A War With North Korea

Posted: 08 Jan 2018 12:39 PM PST

With tensions between the U.S. government and North Korea at a historic high, the Department of Defense spent 2017 deterring an armed confrontation with Kim Jong Un's regime on the Korean peninsula. The Pentagon deployed three carrier strike groups to the Western Pacific for the first time in a decade; stood up THAAD missile defense batteries in South Korea; and deployed squadrons of F-22 and F-35 fighter jets to patrol the skies near Pyongyang. All the stakeholders know that, even with overwhelming U.S. might and decades of wargaming, an invasion involving the 28,500 U.S. troops currently stationed in South Korea could bring massive casualties for military personnel and civilians, including an estimated 20,000 South Korean deaths a day from North Korean artillery.

But according to a series of war games conducted last year at the Air War College on Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, the DoD also faces a limited ability to evacuate wounded service members from a battlefield in Korea — an obstacle that could send the U.S. military death toll soaring in an open conflict.

The upshot: United States forces in a conventional ground war with North Korea could suffer an outsize wound-to-kill ratio due to those airlift difficulties, political science professor and war scholar Tanisha M. Fazal argues in today's Washington Post. While the United States has endured nearly 7,000 combat casualties in the course of the military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, those numbers have remained relatively low and stable over time due to the DoD's overwhelming air superiority in the region (an advantage best captured by the massive rise in bombing sorties against militants in the first year of the Trump administration). Under those conditions, evacuation of casualties by air — the fastest method, and hence the key to making injuries more survivable — is a no-brainer.

Unlike al Qaeda or ISIS jihadists, however, North Korea is ready for an air war: A November 2017 assessment by the Congressional Research Service of the country's military capabilities conclude that while Pyongyang's air defenses are relatively outmoded, the North Korean Air Force possesses "a dense, overlapping air defense system of SA-2, SA-3, and SA-5" surface-to-air missile sites and other mobile and man-portable anti-air munitions — and that's not even counting the Kim regime's fleet of 1,300 Soviet-era aircraft intent on knocking U.S. assets out of the sky.

The distribution of North Korea’s air forces, according to a Nov. 7, 2017 Congressional Research Service report on military options for the U.S.

Add it all together, and those air defenses spell trouble for an opposing force's traditional medevac efforts. "Modern combat medicine has made great advances in stemming blood loss, for example, but those procedures are typically temporary measures, carried out to keep a patient alive until airlifted to a higher-level, trauma-care facility," Fazal writes. "That was possible in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the United States had undisputed control of the skies. But it would not be true on the Korean Peninsula, at least at first."

Indeed, a 2012 assessment in Military Medicine found that late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's air defense command unit was effective enough during the initial months of the 2003 invasion that the U.S. military scrambled to develop forward-deployed medical and surgical teams to stabilize casualties near an injury point.

Related: Could North Korea's 4,300 Tanks Crush America In A War? »

It's difficult to assess the DoD's overall air evacuation capabilities in the event of war with North Korea, given the different system and structure of each branch's various medical commands. (Air University and the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Task & Purpose). But as part of the the Air War College simulation, the prospect of an aerial medevac for American troops was reduced to near zero through a conventional strike against a U.S. air base in South Korea; that, Fazal observed, forced a radical shift in how medics treat patients.

"Certain casualties could be saved if air evacuation was possible — but would have little to no hope without evacuation, and thus would receive only palliative care," Fazal wrote of the simulation. "A base commander would probably require medics to prioritize care for personnel essential to the mission, even if they had less severe injuries than others. Assuming that medicine and medical personnel would not be resupplied, medics would not be able to provide the standard of care to which the U.S. military has become accustomed."

Even without a direct strike on a U.S. staging area, air evacuations would remain a challenge. "Lift in the Pacific is always a problem and has been for years, simply because it's just so big," Lindsey Ford, a Asia Society fellow and former advisor to the Pentagon's assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, told Task & Purpose. "To have the amount of lift you need to cover the tremendous amount of space, there is always a challenge, whether you're talking about everyday operations or a unique medevac. Just think about that in the context of how many forces we currently have in the region."

north korea air defenses medevacU.S. Army/Capt. Jonathon Daniell

Soldiers assigned to 6th Battalion, 52nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment, and airmen assigned to Republic of Korea – Air Force 10th Fighter Wing, transport a casualty into a B Company, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Aviation Regiment chinook helicopter, at Suwon Air Base, on July 20, 2016.

Ford pointed to the 2006 evacuation of U.S. citizens from Lebanon, in which the Pentagon aided the Department of State in extracting 15,000 people over the span of two months in the largest overseas evacuation in U.S. history. While U.S. Central Command was responsible for extracting 90% of the U.S. evacuees to nearby Turkey and Cyprus, a 2007 Government Accountability Office review of the effort found that Israeli strikes on the Beirut airport and subsequent blockades of coastal ports seriously complicated air and sea evacuation efforts. The evacuations were primarily executed by U.S. and British naval flotillas, supplemented by contracted commercial or civilian ships; Marine CH-53 Super Stallion helicopters were used only for the most serious medical cases, primarily because Israeli munitions had "crippled airports, seaports and roads in retaliation for attacks by Hezbollah militants," the New York Times reported at the time.

"That was just 15,000 [American civilians] evacuated," Ford said of the Lebanon evacuation. "There are some 100,000 in Seoul, where, once war starts, there will be between 30,000 and 300,000 dead in just a few days."

There are two options available to the Pentagon to address this problem. The first simply involves improving medevac capabilities by adding more maneuverable aircraft. The Army is addressing this issue with the Future Vertical Lift project, designed to replace the iconic AH-64 Apache attack chopper and UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopter with an aircraft that combines speed and range with versatility and maneuverability. But since 2016, the Army's Medical Research and Materiel Command has also been exploring the potential deployment of unmanned vehicles to conduct quick and relatively safe medevacs. Last March, Dragonfly Pictures unveiled the DP-14 Hawk as a potential one-man extraction craft; despite resistance to the deployment of robots downrange, a 2014 USAMRMC report stated that unmanned systems "can potentially conduct extraction and/or retrieval of combat casualties on behalf of the first responder and deliver the wounded Soldier (within a short distance) to a safer location."

Related: Read T&P’s Full Coverage Of North Korea »

But even the best aircraft can get held up in the skies or be too far from an extraction site, leaving the standard operating procedure for forward surgical teams as the next best option: Stabilize the patient and wait for the cavalry. The Pentagon has a long-established ground-medevac doctrine utilizing chains of medical outposts that connect a forward operating base to a secure medical facility in the rear. The Army's Combat Casualty Care Research Program (CCCRP) is working overtime on new tech to accelerate diagnosis and treatment downrange, but the branch admits that "prolonged field care" is the primary capability gap of concern across the entire branch, according to the January/February issue of Army AT&L Magazine.

"Experts say future battlefields will require medical efforts to be more assertive at the point of injury as opposed to standard forward aid locations," Army AT&L notes, "a shift that also radically changes the concept of the 'golden hour' standard of care, which relies on traditional medical transport to get service members treated within the first hour after injury."

Given the nature of defense planning, that shift in downrange medical treatment won't come overnight, but it's long overdue. Declassified documents from 1994 published by the Guardian last month showed that, while the Pentagon remained convinced it would eke out a victory in war with North Korea, a ground invasion would leave some 490,000 South Koreans and 52,000 U.S. troops wounded or killed in the first three months alone. After 15 years of air superiority in the Middle East and Southwest Asia, it appears the best strategy to avoid a breathtaking casualty rate in a conventional war with North Korea is the exact same as with a nuclear conflict with Pyongyang: The only winning move is not to play.

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The post This Is One Of US Military Planners' Greatest Fears In A War With North Korea appeared first on Task & Purpose.

Poop And Soda Bottles Threaten Air Force Rocket Program, Investigators Say

Posted: 08 Jan 2018 05:03 AM PST

Pentagon investigators have found that Air Force rocket programs have a poopy problem with messy factories and sloppy procedures that could endanger military launches.

The new report found “animal feces” in an Aerojet Rocketdyne test area for rocket motors used aboard the military’s Atlas and Delta Rockets. At rocket upstart SpaceX, investigators found bottles of soda and personal items in a rocket-testing area that was supposed to be kept clear of debris. At United Launch Alliance, investigators found workers didn’t follow procedures to prevent electrostatic issues, leaving rocket parts vulnerable to damage,

The 26-page report, which found 181 distinct quality control issues, slammed the Air Force Space Command’s rocket-buying program, saying leaders “did not perform adequate quality assurance.” The command is based at Peterson Air Force Base.

The Defense Contract Management Agency, which oversees military contractors, said it “issued corrective action requests to each contractor. Each contractor submitted corresponding corrective action plans and they are well underway in implementing those corrective actions.”

Air Force Space Command’s top rocket man, Col Robert P. Bongiovi, director of launch systems, praised the report.

“Our priority is mission success on every launch and we appreciate the DoD IG’s diligence in ensuring our provider’s quality systems and processes are tuned to ensure continued launch success,” he said.

But John Pike, who runs the Virginia-based think tank Global Security.org, said the problems found in the report, including the poop, point to bigger issues.

Two decades of successful launches, Pike said, might have bred complacency in the Air Force’s rocket enterprise that could lead to failures.

“If it seems to be working they aren’t going to go looking for problems,” he said.

In the late 1990s, the Air Force suffered a string of spectacular launch failures – six in nine months. The service was ordered by Congress to investigate the problems, and the service found a series of issues, many based on faulty quality control procedures by contractors.

This time, the Pentagon has ordered a “root cause analysis” to figure out why pop cans and poop were allowed in the same room as rocket engines.

The report found more than pop and poop problems.

Investigators delved into whether contractors complied with a set of rules with a title only the Pentagon could love: Aerospace Standard 9100C.

That set of regulations controls everything from product testing and materials safety to control of debris and keeping track of expiration dates on equipment.

In one example, the investigators found expired glue at a rocket plant run by Aerojet Rocketdyne.

At SpaceX, investigators say they spotted workers using tools that weren’t specified in a manual.

At United Launch Alliance, investigators say workers weren’t taking precautions to avoid static electricity and to control humidity around rocket parts.

Of the 181 issues found, 64 were tied to United Launch Alliance, 75 to SpaceX and 42 to Aerojet Rocketdyne. In all, 68 of the issues were deemed “major.”

Any issue could cost the Air Force big bucks. With a rocket launch running around $400 million and some military satellites topping $1 billion, any failure could take a bite out of the Pentagon’s $8 billion in annual space spending.

The military has promised to determine how the problems arose within 90 days.

Pike said the solution to the issue is simple: Make sure airmen and contractors don’t slack off when it comes to quality standards.

Space flight, he said, is a business with little room for mistakes.

“There’s a reason they call it rocket science,” Pike said.

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©2018 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

The post Poop And Soda Bottles Threaten Air Force Rocket Program, Investigators Say appeared first on Task & Purpose.

‘Get Ready To Fight’: Veterans Condemn Justice Department’s Rollback Of Obama-Era Marijuana Policy

Posted: 08 Jan 2018 04:48 AM PST

Veterans who have advocated for greater access to medical marijuana are concerned about decreased access to the drug following Attorney General Jeff Sessions' decision Thursday to rescind policies that took a hands-off approach to enforcing federal laws against marijuana in states where it is legal.

Sessions, who has long-argued marijuana is a gateway to more dangerous drugs, gave discretion to U.S. attorneys to decide how aggressively to enforce federal marijuana laws, which conflict with state and local laws where marijuana is legal. He did away with a guideline signed in 2013 during President Barack Obama's administration by former Deputy Attorney General James Cole – and known as the Cole memo – that discouraged U.S. attorneys from prosecuting marijuana-related cases in cannabis-friendly states. In a statement, Sessions called the change a "return to the rule of law."

It's uncertain how prosecutors will put the new guidelines into practice. Veterans and marijuana advocates Nick Etten and Sean Kiernan said the uncertainty increases risk for marijuana investors and retailers whose clientele includes veterans.

"If they crack down on medical or recreational programs, it's going to hurt access. And then you're going to see an ornery group of veterans," said Kiernan, who works with the Weed for Warriors Project, an organization that provides access to free cannabis for veterans with the proper paperwork.

On his group's Facebook page Thursday, Kiernan wrote veterans should "get ready to fight."

Veterans led the charge in Washington last year on attempts to remove marijuana from the list of Schedule I drugs, which are classified as having no medical use. They argued the Department of Veterans Affairs should allow its doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients in cannabis-friendly states, and they insisted marijuana was a possible solution to combat the epidemic of opioid overdoses in the United States. Veterans were twice as likely to die from an accidental overdose than civilians in 2014, according to VA data.

Army veteran Boone Cutler, Marine Corps veteran Josh Frey and former NFL lineman Kyle Turley are a few advocates who spoke to lawmakers on Capitol Hill in recent months about their experiences using marijuana as an alternative to opioids.

Some veterans also use cannabis to ease symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. The first government-approved study of marijuana's effects on veterans with PTSD is underway in Phoenix, Ariz. Sue Sisley, the psychiatrist running the study, said Sessions' decision Thursday was a threat to the marijuana legalization movement.

At a media event in November, Etten, the founder of Veterans Cannabis Project and a retired Navy lieutenant, accused Sessions of prioritizing his personal agenda over patients who use marijuana.

"They're playing politics with the lives of patients," Etten said again Thursday. "We have limited access to cannabis as medicine already, and by the Department of Justice saying they're going to be effective at enforcement, they're interfering with veterans' access to medicine."

According to a poll commissioned by the American Legion in November, 83 percent of veteran households support the federal legalization of medical marijuana and 92 percent are in favor of more research into marijuana as a treatment. The American Legion advocated in 2017 for more research into medical marijuana, motivated in part by comments during the summer from VA Secretary David Shulkin, a physician, who said he was open to learning from any evidence marijuana could be used to treat veterans.

In response to Sessions' decision Thursday, the Legion said it would continue to lobby for more research and for marijuana to be removed from the list of Schedule I drugs.

Motivation to act

Etten, based in Chicago, said he'd continue with plans to travel to Washington every month with other members of the Veterans Cannabis Project to educate lawmakers on how veterans use marijuana as a medical treatment.

The changes announced Thursday make the work more critical, he said, and they could have an upside. Etten believes outrage over repeal of the Cole amendment could pressure Congress to act to end the discrepancies between federal and state marijuana laws.

Medical marijuana is legal in 29 states and Washington, D.C., and recreational marijuana is legal in eight states and D.C. On Monday, California joined Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Nevada and Colorado and made it legal to sell and cultivate marijuana there.

"It's on Congress not to kick the can down the road anymore and pass cannabis reform at the federal level," Etten said. "I always try to see the silver lining, and I hope this puts pressure on Congress to act."

Members of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus are also optimistic Sessions' decision could create more support for legislation requiring the federal government to respect state marijuana laws.

In December, Congress passed protections for state medical marijuana programs — known as the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment — as part of a stopgap spending bill that prevented a government shutdown. The protections prohibit the Justice Department from using federal funds to stop states from implementing laws allowing marijuana cultivation, distribution and possession. It doesn't protect states that have adopted programs for the adult-use of recreational marijuana.

The protections were first put in place in December 2014, and they expire when the funding extension ends on Jan. 19.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., will be asking for the protections to be included again in another budget deal later this month. With the outcry generated by Sessions' decision on the Cole memo, they're hoping for more support in Congress for permanent protections, rather than temporary fixes Congress must approve intermittently. They're also pushing to expand protections to states with recreational marijuana programs.

On a call between reporters and several members of the cannabis caucus Thursday, Rohrabacher called the situation a "wake-up call."

"I think because of this offensive move against us, it will mobilize us to win the day," he said. "This shows we need a comprehensive bill that the federal government will respect all of the decisions of the states when it comes to cannabis."

Congress is now in a position to "take advantage of these circumstances and make progress," Blumenauer said.

Contradictory messages

Kiernan, Rohrabacher and other lawmakers called Sessions' new guidelines a deviation from what President Donald Trump promised during his campaign.

During three separate interviews in 2015 and 2016, Trump told reporters that decisions to legalize marijuana should be left to the states, according to PolitiFact, a fact-checking site run by the Tampa Bay Times.

Republican Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, which has a legal market for recreational marijuana, said Thursday on the Senate floor that Sessions had assured him before his confirmation in February that states' decisions regarding marijuana would be protected. Gardner threatened to hold up Justice Department nominees if the decision weren't reversed.

In response to a question Thursday about whether Trump saw marijuana policy as a state or federal issue, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, "Whether it's marijuana or whether it's immigration, the president strongly believes that we should enforce federal law."

"I think there are a lot of veterans out there who today feel betrayed by President Trump," Kiernan said. "Veterans who are pro-marijuana and pro-Trump. This is no surprise to some of us who've thought Sessions was going to do this. For us, it's 'We told you this was going to happen.'"

Rohrabacher told reporters that Sessions' action fell out-of-line with what he thought the president wanted. He said he believes if Trump was pressed on the issue, the president would support efforts to leave the issue to the states.

"What we've got to do is hold his feet to the fire," Rohrabacher said. "We know you promised this. Your Attorney General is taking things in the opposite direction. Are you or are you not going to abide by your campaign pledges? I have every confidence that if we do that, he will support the measures."

VA policy shift

Sessions' decision on the Cole memo comes less than a month after the VA issued a directive allowing its health care providers to discuss marijuana use with veterans in states where it's legal – a move the American Legion sees as a positive step toward the federal agency accepting marijuana as a medical treatment.

The directive implies discussing marijuana use with VA doctors could be helpful in creating patient treatment plans. It does not give authority to VA providers to recommend marijuana.

Etten and Kiernan doubted veterans would speak openly to their VA providers about marijuana out of distrust of what the agency would do with the information. VA policy states veterans' participation in state medical marijuana programs does not affect their eligibility for VA care, but veterans still remain fearful of being classified as marijuana users, Kiernan said.

But Denise Rohan, national commander of the American Legion, said the VA policy change would allow veterans to be more open about their marijuana use without fear of repercussions.

While the VA is taking a "commonsense step," the Justice Department is moving in the opposite direction, said Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., the ranking Democrat of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs and the highest-ranking former enlisted soldier to serve in Congress.

Walz and other Democrats on the committee wrote a letter to Shulkin in October urging the VA to initiate research into the efficacy of medical cannabis. They cited the country's opioid epidemic and the growing demand from veterans who want cannabis available as a treatment for chronic pain and PTSD.

On Thursday, Walz expressed concerns the rollback of the Cole memo and any decreased access to marijuana would facilitate the practice of overprescribing opioids.

"Trump and Attorney General Sessions' decision will likely have far-reaching and profoundly negative consequences on the lives of veterans who depend on medical cannabis to cope with injuries such as PTSD or chronic pain sustained during service to our country," he said. "It is disappointing to see that while the VA moves in the right direction, however slowly, AG Sessions is determined to take our country backwards."

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©2018 the Stars and Stripes. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

The post 'Get Ready To Fight': Veterans Condemn Justice Department's Rollback Of Obama-Era Marijuana Policy appeared first on Task & Purpose.