WATCH: Veterans say they ‘wouldn’t be here’ without marijuana — and demand changes to VA policy against it
Veterans with PTSD are in a difficult position as the Veterans Administration denounces patients using marijuana to deal with health issues.
A Washington Post interview with two veterans cite the man claiming the VA thinks “you are doing something bad” when veterans turn from pharmaceuticals to marijuana.
However, Joshua James Frey went so far as to say that without it he’d be dead. He’s a Marine Corps combat veteran of the Third Battalion, First Marine Regiment, who earned the Purple Heart when he was wounded during a tour in Iraq. He was shot twice in 2004, once from a rocket-propelled grenade and again a month later in his right shoulder. The wound that nearly cost him his life.
During an American Legion press conference last week, Frey joined with the mother of another veteran who believes that her son would have been saved if he was using marijuana. The American Legion has produced pages of study and testimony on the successes of marijuana usage to help shell-shocked veterans desperate for help.
Boone Cutler, a medically retired Army veteran, who stayed “on the drugs” for two years. He called the pharmaceutical regimine the “combat cocktail” that turned him into a “zombie.” He explained, “you are nothing.”
Janos “Johnny” Lutz’s suicide was after suffering from survivor’s guilt and depression when 14 of his fellow soldiers were killed in 2009 during Operation Khanjar in Helmand Province. His mother, Janine Lutz, partly blames the pharmaceutical industry after her son was diagnosed with severe PTSD and a brain injury. He was prescribed two dozen drugs including Klonopin. He took the drug in June 2010 and “within a week, Johnny attempted suicide,” she said.
Do not give Mr. Lutz Klonopin” was noted on his hospital charts, but the former soldier was never told the drug was responsible for his reaction. He thought that he was responsible for the suicidal thoughts and feelings, “not knowing that it was the medication that was messing with his mind,” his mother said. Three months later he was given the drug again and once again attempted suicide.
The same happened again in 2012, but this time Johnny was successful, overdosing on prescribed drugs.
“It is our hope that the story of my son, who was lost because of prescribed pharmaceuticals will open your hearts and minds to research, cannabis,” Lutz said, trying not to cry. She went on to call it “the most safe and effective treatment for our veterans today.”
“I think my son would be here today,” she said, if medical marijuana was available for veterans.
Frey agrees, saying that he has been “quiet” about his medical marijuana use, but attributes it to his ability to live a normal life after combat.
“I wouldn’t be here today. I wouldn’t have kids today. I wouldn’t have a beautiful wife I’ve been married to for 13 years now,” he explained.
“I feel like I did before the war (in Iraq) mentally and … know this could help not just the veterans struggling, but it could help anyone struggling with addiction and PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). It’s time we all stand as one voice and truly move forward with real hard-lined research and move forward with real compassionate care,” Frey continued.
While 29 states, and Washington, D.C. in the U.S. allow medical marijuana, because the Veterans Administration is governed by federal laws, it can’t recommend, prescribe or pay for marijuana prescriptions for desperate veterans. Use and possession of cannabis is also prohibited at all VA medical centers, the VA’s website details.
Dr. Katherine Mitchell in Phoenix explained that she “was not officially allowed to discuss the subject.”
“Whether the establishment wants to recognize it or not, because marijuana use has moved into the mainstream, health-care providers have an ethical obligation to help our patients understand the potential positive and negative impacts marijuana could have on their health,” she went on.
Frey wants to “stop the madness,” hoping that events last the one last week can show lawmakers why the war on drugs should exempt marijuana and acknowledge it helps people overcome pain, PTSD and addiction.
“We need to get this stuff on the books. … It could help a lot of vets,” he said.
Watch the full press conference below: