Touring the grounds of the Department of Veterans Affairs last October, Michelle Obama spoke with an air of reverence, saying that the nation’s veterans’ deserve "our unwavering support." It seems "so simple," she continued. "They deserve the care that they were promised, and they deserve the benefits that they earned."
That may be the case, but inside her husband’s administration, politics evidently trump the desire to provide U.S. veterans with the full spectrum of available care. The Drug Enforcement Agency is currently preventing the VA’s doctors from recommending medical marijuana to their patients — even in the 14 states where medical marijuana is legal. Any doctor who feels duty-bound to communicate the drugs’ benefits to former soldiers risks civil and criminal penalties, as well as a lost license.
Among all of the uses for medical marijuana — relief from nausea for people with cancer and HIV/AIDS and severe pain — its benefits for victims of post-traumatic stress disorder are among the best-studied and documented out there. The need, too, is overwhelming: According to 2008 figures, some 20% of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer the disorder, yet less than 10% of veterans with PTSD ever receive full treatment. Meanwhile as Marjorie Childress writes, veteran suicides have "skyrocketed;" since 2001, more veterans have committed suicide than have died in the combined combat zones of Iraq and Afghanistan.
For veterans like Charlie, who was deployed in Afghanistan before being discharged in 2006 — and suffers from PTSD, as well as traumatic brain and back injuries and gastrointestinal problems — nothing has helped his pain so much as marijuana. While the VA had tried giving him six different antidepressants, lorazepam for his anxiety, two sleeping aids, a trio of medicines for stomach problems and Topomax and amyltriptomine for his migraines, it was marijuana, he says, that ultimately brought him relief. Unlike other medications, it didn’t reduce him to a "zombie," it didn’t make him feel constantly jittery or drunk, and it didn’t cause him to throw up.
Not surprisingly, in New Mexico — where medical marijuana is legal — the largest group of patients enrolled in the program are veterans. But for the many veterans who rely exclusively on the VA for their healthcare, the program remains off-limits.
Tell President Obama and Eric K. Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, to stop allowing the DEA to discourage former soldiers from receiving full treatment for combat injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. Last week, over 9,000 Change.org members helped change CBS’s mind on a marijuana legalization ad. Let’s see if we can rally the same force here for U.S. veterans.
As Martin H. Chilcutt, veteran and founder of Veterans for Medical Marijuana Access, puts it, "Why would any level of government want to deny veterans the same opportunities as everyone else?"