Hirono Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Eliminate Copays for Veterans Accessing Contraception

~ Legislation passed the House with bipartisan support earlier this year ~

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, joined Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Susan Collins (R-ME), and 17 of their Senate colleagues in introducing the bipartisan Equal Access to Contraception for Veterans Act to eliminate copayments for contraception covered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). While civilians can receive contraception without a copay through the Affordable Care Act and active duty servicemembers can receive health care—including basic contraceptive services—without copays through TRICARE, VA healthcare only waives contraception copays for a limited number of veterans. The legislation is originally authored by U.S. Representative Julia Brownley (D-CA) and was approved by the House of Representatives in June by a bipartisan vote of 245-181.

“Access to contraception is a fundamental, constitutional right,” said Senator Hirono. “But while civilians and active duty servicemembers can access contraception free of charge, hundreds of thousands of veterans receiving VA care are still forced to pay out-of-pocket costs. We owe it to our veterans to ensure they receive the quality, comprehensive health care they deserve, including contraception. The Equal Access to Contraception for Veterans Act will help do exactly that.”

Under current law, only a restricted group of veterans, including 50 percent disabled veterans and veterans below specific income levels, are exempt from copayments for contraception. This legislation will eliminate out-of-pocket costs levied against countless veterans, including women who make up the fastest growing group of veterans enrolling in the VA healthcare system.

The Equal Access to Contraception for Veterans Act is also cosponsored by U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Angus King (I-ME), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Patty Murray (D-WA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

VA Secretary’s Statement on the Passage of the PACT Act

VA Secretary’s Statement on the Passage of the PACT Act
“Veterans who were exposed to toxic fumes while fighting for our country are American heroes, and they deserve world-class care and benefits for their selfless service. The bipartisan PACT Act will help VA deliver for those Veterans—and their survivors—by empowering us to presumptively provide care and benefits to Vets suffering from more than 20 toxic exposure-related conditions.

To those Veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors: you can apply for PACT Act benefits by filing a claim at VA.gov, and you can learn more about the PACT Act at VA.gov/PACT or by calling us at 1-800-MyVA411. VA will be communicating with you every step of the way to make sure that you and your loved ones get the benefits you’ve earned.

I couldn’t be more grateful to President Biden, who made this day possible by fighting like hell for our nation’s Veterans. Once the President signs this bill into law, VA will implement it quickly and effectively, delivering the care these Veterans need and the benefits they deserve.” – VA Secretary Denis R. McDonough

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Amy Rohlfs

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VA Pacific Islands Health Care System

California Veterans Health Initiative to Combat Suicide and Address Mental Health

Sacramento – Today, Governor Newsom announced $50 million for the establishment of the California Veterans Health Initiative (CVHI). The CVHI will deliver a comprehensive, coordinated statewide approach to ending veteran suicide by focusing on prevention, early intervention, and direct services to effectively combat the risk factors associated with suicidal ideation.

“On behalf of California’s veterans and their families, I would like to thank Governor Newsom and his Administration for their support of those who have worn this nation’s uniform. The Governor’s investment in the California Veterans Health Initiative displays his strong commitment to face a challenge that disproportionately affects California’s veterans and their families,” said CalVet Secretary Vito Imbasciani MD. “This is an unprecedented investment in the well-being of our veterans and their families, for which we are grateful.”

The CVHI will bolster awareness, outreach, and education efforts, as well as increase capacity through coordinated support of the community-based systems of care.

“It is vital veterans and their families have timely access to culturally competent mental health services,” said Keith Boylan, Deputy Secretary for Veteran Services. “The CVHI will support a structure that not only ensures help is there when most needed, but far upstream before challenges become emergencies, and worse yet, tragedies.”

The Initiative consists of three main components, including:

Outreach and Education Campaign ($5 million). The CVHI will strategically address the risk factors associated with veteran suicide through an awareness campaign that educates veterans, stakeholders, partners, and the broader community on the knowledge, behaviors, and attitudes surrounding veteran suicide. The campaign will target prevention activities, and promote health and wellness.

Veteran Mental Health Support Network ($40 million). The Initiative would expand access to mental healthcare for veterans and their families by supporting a network of veteran-specific mental health clinics throughout the state. Crisis intervention and treatment would be inclusive, equitable, and available to veterans regardless of age, period of service, type of service, discharge status, or disability rating.

Veteran Suicide Surveillance and Review Program ($5 million). CVHI will establish a multidisciplinary team of professionals and stakeholders focusing on the identification and collection of veteran specific suicide data. Additionally, the team will coordinate a statewide assessment of veteran’s mental health and provide recommendations on future prevention, intervention, and post-intervention strategies.

For more information on the Governor’s 2022-2023 May Budget Revision, visit dof.ca.gov.​

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Link to NEWS RELEASE: https://www.calvet.ca.gov/Pages/NEWS-RELEASE-California-Veterans-Health-Initiative-to-Combat-Suicide-and-Address-Mental-Health.aspx

Oregon State research shows hemp compounds prevent coronavirus from entering human cells

January 10, 2022

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Hemp compounds identified by Oregon State University research

via a chemical screening technique invented at OSU show the ability to prevent the

virus that causes COVID-19 from entering human cells.

Findings of the study led by Richard van Breemen, a researcher with Oregon State’s

Global Hemp Innovation Center, College of Pharmacy and Linus Pauling Institute,

were published today in the Journal of Natural Products.

Hemp, known scientifically as Cannabis sativa, is a source of fiber, food and animal

feed, and multiple hemp extracts and compounds are added to cosmetics, body

lotions, dietary supplements and food, van Breemen said.

Van Breemen and collaborators, including scientists at Oregon Health & Science

University, found that a pair of cannabinoid acids bind to the SARS-CoV-2 spike

protein, blocking a critical step in the process the virus uses to infect people.

The compounds are cannabigerolic acid, or CBGA, and cannabidiolic acid, CBDA, and

the spike protein is the same drug target used in COVID-19 vaccines and antibody

therapy. A drug target is any molecule critical to the process a disease follows,

meaning its disruption can thwart infection or disease progression.

These cannabinoid acids are abundant in hemp and in many hemp extracts,” van

Breemen said. “They are not controlled substances like THC, the psychoactive

ingredient in marijuana, and have a good safety profile in humans. And our research

showed the hemp compounds were equally effective against variants of SARS-CoV-2,

including variant B.1.1.7, which was first detected in the United Kingdom, and variant

B.1.351, first detected in South Africa.”

Those two variants are also known the alpha and beta variant, respectively.

Characterized by crown-like protrusions on its outer surface, SARS-CoV-2 features

RNA strands that encode its four main structural proteins – spike, envelope,

membrane and nucleocapsid – as well as 16 nonstructural proteins and several

accessory” proteins, van Breemen said.

Any part of the infection and replication cycle is a potential target for antiviral

intervention, and the connection of the spike protein’s receptor binding domain to

the human cell surface receptor ACE2 is a critical step in that cycle,” he said. “That

means cell entry inhibitors, like the acids from hemp, could be used to prevent SARSCoV-

2 infection and also to shorten infections by preventing virus particles from

infecting human cells. They bind to the spike proteins so those proteins can’t bind to

the ACE2 enzyme, which is abundant on the outer membrane of endothelial cells in

the lungs and other organs.”

Using compounds that block virus-receptor interaction has been helpful for patients

with other viral infections, he notes, including HIV-1 and hepatitis.

Van Breemen, Ruth Muchiri of the College of Pharmacy and Linus Pauling Institute

and five scientists from OHSU identified the two cannabinoid acids via a mass

spectrometry-based screening technique invented in van Breemen’s laboratory. Van

Breemen’s team screened a range of botanicals used as dietary supplements

including red clover, wild yam, hops and three species of licorice.

An earlier paper in the Journal of the American Society for Mass Spectrometry

described tailoring the novel method, affinity selection mass spectrometry, to finding

drugs that would target the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein.

In the later research, lab tests showed that cannabigerolic acid and cannabidiolic acid

prevented infection of human epithelial cells by the coronavirus spike protein and

prevented entry of SARS-CoV-2 into cells.

These compounds can be taken orally and have a long history of safe use in

humans,” van Breemen said. “They have the potential to prevent as well as treat

infection by SARS-CoV-2. CBDA and CBGA are produced by the hemp plant as

precursors to CBD and CBG, which are familiar to many consumers. However, they

are different from the acids and are not contained in hemp products.”

Van Breemen explains that affinity selection mass spectrometery, which he

abbreviates to AS-MS, involves incubating a drug target like the SARS-CoV-2 spike

protein with a mixture of possible ligands – things that might bind to it – such as a

botanical extract, in this case hemp extract.

The ligand-receptor complexes are then filtered from the non-binding molecules

using one of several methods.

We identified several cannabinoid ligands and ranked them by affinity to the spike

protein,” van Breemen said. “The two cannabinoids with the highest affinities for the

spike protein were CBDA and CGBA, and they were confirmed to block infection.

One of the primary concerns in the pandemic is the spread of variants, of which

there are many, and B.1.1.7 and B.1.351 are among the most widespread and

concerning,” he added. “These variants are well known for evading antibodies against

early lineage SARS-CoV-2, which is obviously concerning given that current vaccination

strategies rely on the early lineage spike protein as an antigen. Our data show CBDA

and CBGA are effective against the two variants we looked at, and we hope that trend

will extend to other existing and future variants.”

Van Breemen said resistant variants could still arise amid widespread use of

cannabinoids but that the combination of vaccination and CBDA/CBGA treatment

should make for a much more challenging environment for SARS-CoV-2.

Our earlier research reported on the discovery of another compound, one from

licorice, that binds to the spike protein too,” he said. “However, we did not test that

compound, licochalcone A, for activity against the live virus yet. We need new funding

for that.”

Timothy Bates, Jules Weinstein, Hans Leier, Scotland Farley and Fikadu Tafesse of

OHSU also contributed to the cannabinoid study.

About the OSU College of Pharmacy: The College of Pharmacy prepares students of today to be the

pharmacy practitioners and pharmaceutical sciences researchers of tomorrow by contributing to improved

health, advancing patient care and the discovery and understanding of medicines.

STORY BY:

Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

steve.lundeberg@oregonstate.edu

SOURCE:

Richard van Breemen, 541-737-5078

Richard.vanbreemen@oregonstate.edu