Medical marijuana is being sought by more veterans returning from war zones. For decades, prescription medications were seen as the only viable solution for those who had been traumatized by war. The results have been less than ideal. Twenty two military veterans commit suicide every day, according to a study released by the Veteran’s Administration in Washington D.C.
Diagnosed with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), most veterans are placed on a pharmaceutical cocktail which leaves many of them feeling like zombies. The “zombie effect,” or inability to feel anything emotionally while on the prescribed medications, is a side effect reported by many veterans. Encouraged by relaxing attitudes toward marijuana use, as well as an increasing desire to aid returning veterans, people are working to ease the transition to daily life for former military members.
Casey Robinson, of Santa Cruz, California, served from 2001 until March 2006 in the U.S. Marine Corps. Completing three tours in Iraq, he was injured in 2003, and again in 2005. While in the service, he was honorably discharged and referred to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for treatment of his injuries.
Robinson experienced the “zombie effect,” but could not get anyone at VA to help him medically. While taking part in a bicycling group supported by the local VA, Robinson found that many of his new friends had decided to stop taking the medication prescribed by the VA and turned to marijuana instead. So he decided to try medical marijuana.
Robinson co-founded a local co-op, California Veterans Medicine, which makes medical marijuana available to veterans with service-connected injuries. Providing the cannabis at no cost to veterans, the program’s activities operate under the Compassionate Use Act of 1996.
Advocates of medical marijuana for veterans continue to face an uphill battle. Medicinal marijuana is legal in 25 U.S. states. Even in those states, marijuana use puts a veteran’s VA benefits in jeopardy. The two exceptions are Colorado and Washington, where the VA has removed its ban on marijuana use.
If active duty members of the service are caught in possession of marijuana, no matter how little, they face a possible dishonorable discharge which results in forfeiture of all pay and prison for two years. Dishonorably discharged service members lose their VA benefits, including the GI Bill and home loan guarantees. The veteran may also become ineligible for federal, state and local employment, as well as forfeit the opportunity to obtain student aid. Licensure needed for many jobs are also forbidden to dishonorably discharged veterans.
Not This Time
A friend of Robinson’s, Donna Jacobs, may have come up with a solution for all of the issues. With the assistance of Oaksterdam University, she is linking veterans with the growing cannabis industry.
Jacobs’ son was a soldier who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. She has been working nationally to get veterans access to cannabis since 2004. While hosting a veterans’ program on KSCO Radio in Santa Cruz in 2005, Jacobs founded Not This Time, a local nonprofit that helps new generations of veterans avoid the stigma and poor care which Jacobs feels the Vietnam War veterans received. She established a new branch of the nonprofit in December 2012, called Veterans Growing Victory (VGV), which focuses on connecting veterans with the marijuana and hemp industries.
Jacobs says that VGV is about providing information and education that marijuana is a good replacement for what the VA has been providing to vets. She says she does not want VGV to interfere with what the VA is doing, but rather, teach people that the “…option of medical cannabis is freeing.”
While working with VGV, Jacobs met Dale Sky Jones, an executive chancellor of Oaksterdam University interested in discussing the relationship between veterans’ cases and the medical marijuana industry. Shortly after their meeting, Jones started a new scholarship program called Freedom Fighters. Freedom Fighters admits a dozen vets each year, free of charge, to Oaksterdam University. She began admitting veterans in January 2013.
Robinson, Jacobs and Jones are just three veteran advocates who feel that medical marijuana could be the solution that has been sought for decades by more veterans.
By Jerry Nelson