On the eve of Veterans Day, Senate passed the Fiscal Year 2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (MilCon-VA) Appropriation Bill, which included a stipulation allowing Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend medical cannabis in states where it is legal. This is huge for the Veteran community. This means Veterans who use medical cannabis in states where it is legal would not be subjected to the same scrutiny and intrusive, demeaning drug testing in order to receive Veterans Affairs treatment.
Oftentimes Veterans suffering with painful side effects or complex PTSD as a result of their service are faced with the decision to either take the medical concoction regularly prescribed for treatment by the VA, or seek costly medical care away from the Veterans Administration. More and more Veterans are turning to cannabis for its powerful healing and pain fighting attributes.
After serving in the Navy 7 years, I returned home with complex PTSD/MST and long term side effects from the anthrax inoculation, which left me with debilitating pain and muscle stiffness, leaving me unable to walk without assistance most days. The Veterans Administration prescribed a cocktail of medications, totaling 10 pills I needed to take every day, some two to three times a day. The side effects of the medications were, in my opinion, worse than the issues they were supposedly treating. I was left catatonic, completely unable to sit up, walk, talk or eat on my own. Upon explaining my issues with the medications to my doctors I was told they are fine, I just needed to get used to them. I knew there had to be a better way.
I was told about medical cannabis by other Veterans. To be honest, I was very weary, after having grown up with the D.A.R.E. Program and hearing how marijuana would destroy your life. I decided, going and talking to the doctor couldn’t hurt and was given a recommendation for medical cannabis use after describing my issues. I went to the dispensary and was recommended to try a strain called “Cherry Pie”. After getting my medication home, I filled up my new pipe and took a hit. Within a minute I could feel my muscles start to loosen. The crippling pain was alleviated. After another toke, the shakes in my extremities went away. With another toke, I could stand upright and walk on my own. I was convinced at that moment, cannabis was a miracle medication.
I couldn’t go back to being catatonic, so the next time I went to the VA, I was honest about being prescribed to use cannabis by another doctor. Instantly I was accused of being a drug addict and made to submit to a drug test in order to receive any medication. From that moment on, I was made to submit to drug tests at every appointment. If I lied to my doctors about my medical use of cannabis, I was treated with as much respect as any Veteran would expect to receive from the VA (which isn’t saying much).
My only hope with passing of the Veterans Access to Medical Cannabis provision in the MilCom-VA bill is that Veterans will have access to medication based on its effectiveness at treating the issue, rather the current persecution of a plant, and its users, regardless of its effective medicinal attributes. Although, I fear the Veterans Administration may have some time before we see that happening.