22nd of February 2024, 6:20pm
Legislative Council of Victoria, Melbourne

David ETTERSHANK (Western Metropolitan):

My adjournment tonight is for the Minister for Veterans Minister Suleyman. The action I seek is that the minister urge her federal counterpart the Honourable Matt Keogh to update the Department of Veterans’ Affairs medicinal cannabis policy. Post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury (TBI) are amongst the most common conditions afflicting Australian Defence Force veterans. Research indicates that 8 per cent of serving members and 18 per cent of ex-serving members suffer from PTSD, while a staggering 49 per cent of serving members and 47 per cent of ex-members have incurred some form of traumatic brain injury in the line of duty. Veterans suffering from these conditions are being prescribed a raft of opioids and psychotropic medications, as well as sleeping pills. These drugs, subsidised by the DVA, come with a range of debilitating side effects. They sap users of their vitality and wellbeing, reducing them, as veterans have said, to zombies. Worse, they are causing severe levels of harm, including suicidal ideation and death amongst veterans, as recorded by the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide.

Medicinal cannabis products have been shown to be incredibly effective in treating PTSD and traumatic brain injury, and they are safer and cheaper than the psychotropic medications approved by the DVA. Veterans who use medicinal cannabis to treat these conditions have described the relief in returning to something approximating a normal life, and I quote one veteran:

“Like a switch has been switched back on, everything is bright again.”

Medicinal cannabis is readily prescribed for PTSD and TBI for non-service members and veterans. However, the DVA’s current policies do not approve their use. This is leaving veterans seeking less harmful means of treating their conditions in an impossible bind. They can either pay for their unsubsidised medicinal cannabis scripts themselves, which can cost them thousands of dollars a month, or they can source cannabis from the black market, risking criminal conviction and prison. So the action I seek is that the Minister for Veterans advocate to her federal counterpart to change the outdated DVA policy to include medicinal cannabis for the treatment of PTSD and traumatic brain injury, allowing our veterans access to an approved medication before more veterans die or have their lives ruined by dangerous alternatives.

Written Answer
Received: 04 April 2024
Hon Natalie Suleyman MP
(Minister for Veterans, Minister for Small Business, Minister for Youth)

I thank the Member for Western Metropolitan Region for raising this matter on behalf of the veteran community.

I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the service and sacrifice of our veterans. I thank them for their service and their families and loved ones who support them. As the Minister for Veterans, I’m focused on the wellbeing of our veterans and ensuring they have the support they need, when they need it.

The Victorian Government supports research to improve understanding of the ongoing and emerging needs of the veteran community. In 2019-20, the Victorian Government provided $1.5 million over three years to Phoenix Australia, an expert in trauma-related mental health and wellbeing, to expand the Centenary of Anzac Centre.

The Centenary of Anzac Centre is Australia’s National Centre of Excellence in Post-traumatic Mental Health and an internationally recognised leader in the field. It comprises a treatment research collaboration to discover new and more effective treatments for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health issues, and a nationwide support service for practitioners who treat veterans. The commitment included upgrades to the Centre space and the purchase and application of equipment for mental health intervention research.

The Commonwealth Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) currently considers funding medicinal cannabis treatment on a case-by-case basis and for treatment of certain conditions. At this time, DVA does not approve funding for medicinal cannabis for conditions where its use has not been proven to be effective and safe, such as treatment for mental health conditions. I understand that DVA continue to actively monitor research and published evidence in relation to medicinal cannabis treatment.

The Victorian Government together with Commonwealth Department of Health and the New South Wales and Queensland State Governments commissioned a multi-centre team of clinicians, experimental pharmacologists and other scientists at the University of New South Wales, University of Queensland and University of Sydney to review the current clinical evidence for medicinal cannabis in a range of conditions. Guidance for the use of medicinal cannabis will continue to be updated as new evidence emerges.

The Victorian Government will continue to collaborate closely with the Commonwealth and other state and territory governments to improve outcomes for veterans and their families.


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