The day after the United States Senate approved the FY2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (MilCon-VA) Appropriations Bill, which includes language to allow veterans to have access to medical marijuana in states where it is legal, a group of veterans marched to the White House to lobby for the issue and raise awareness of the dangers of prescription medications.
A few weeks ago, a coalition of United States veterans called Weed for Warriors announced that they had plans for a powerful demonstration regarding veterans suffering from pharmaceutical addiction and their need for alternative medicines. Those plans came to fruition on Veterans Day.
The group started marching at D.C.’s Veterans Affairs Headquarters, and walked approximately 1.3 miles down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House. Once in front the of White House, they dumped a large box of empty pill bottles onto the sidewalk.
The pill bottles were collected from veterans across the country “whose sacrifices did not end on the battlefield.” They symbolize the thousands of veterans suffering from conditions like PTSD, anxiety, pain and depression, who are overprescribed opiates and other pharmaceutical medications that often come with severe side effects and high risk of addiction or abuse. A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that the opiod overdose mortality rates in states where medical marijuana has been legalized were significantly lower, suggesting that the use of cannabis an curb opiod overdose deaths by 25 percent.
The only statistics available on the subject show that more than 8,000 veterans commit suicide each year — that’s about 22 per day or one every 65 minutes. Pharmaceuticals are believed to play a large role in this staggering number.
Research has shown cannabis to be helpful in the treatment of several conditions frequently suffered by veterans, such as traumatic brain injuries, PTSD, neuropathic pain, insomnia. A 2014 study, for example, revealed that more than 75 percent of participants suffering from PTSD experienced less severe symptoms when using cannabis.
Two members of Weed for Warriors, Jose Martinez and Kevin Richardson, have publicly shared their stories about struggling with addiction to pain pills and how negatively it affected their lives. For example, Martinez explained,
“Being on pills I hated the world. My struggle with opiates, I tried to commit suicide every day. I took so many pills I thought I’d never wake up again. We went and fought for our country. We just want to be free to medicate the way that we choose to.”
Weed for Warriors is not the only group shedding light on this subject. A United States Marine named Mike Whiter uses powerful photographs in a project he calls “Operation Overmed” to demonstrate the irrationality of denying veterans the right to choose cannabis therapy over pharmaceutical alternatives when studies show that cannabis can often provide more effective relief without the adverse side effects.
“I threw away my pills and my quality of life is better than it has been in years.”
Said Whiter, who has been prescribed more than 40 different pharmaceutical medications to treat symptoms of severe PTSD and chronic pain.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) currently prohibits it’s physicians from even so much as discussing medical cannabis with their military patients, let alone recommending it or participating in medical marijuana programs in legal states. The VA is the only federal healthcare program that prohibits this. Medicaid, Medicare, and CHIP patients are permitted to talk to their physicians about medical marijuana, but veterans are denied the same right.
The FY2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (MilCon-VA) Appropriations Bill would change that, should it ever be fully approved, by authorizing VA health care providers to recommend and discuss medical cannabis in states where it is legal. Similar legislation was vetoed by Congress in April, but supporters are hoping lawmakers have listened more carefully to their constituents since that vote.
photo credit: Fox5dc