by Kayla Johnson
There’s no denying that our veterans go through hell in more ways than one. More often than not, our men and women in the service return to their loved ones wounded, ill, or injured, whether from a service connected incident or just a horrible accident at home. The Department of Veteran Affairs and the United States government make promises of taking care of them when they come home and they need help, or when they’re in a horrible accident on duty in the states, or even in a car wreck. They swear up and down that they’ll do the best they can for our veterans, and that they truly respect the men and women who have served.
Every day of every year, they fall short of that promise in some way. Whether it’s a veteran who can’t get in to see his primary care physician without a three month wait or a veteran whose spouse is being unfairly removed from the caregiver program when they’re desperately needed or a veteran who can’t get help for severe pain. There is no shortage of veterans who have been utterly failed by the VA in one way or another.
Unfortunately, for many veterans, they can only see one way out. Veteran suicide rates are sky high, with an average of 22 veterans a day committing suicide and, for some states and age groups, the numbers are only going up. Others turn to a different form of self-destruction, poisoning themselves with alcohol, drugs, and anything they can find or do to keep the physical and mental pain at bay and, more often than not, the VA is the one handing out those drugs and prescription painkillers like candy on Halloween. PTSD, depression, anxiety, physical injuries and physical illnesses are what make up the war at home and, even if you don’t see it firsthand, the battles for these veterans and their loved ones are very real, and very painful. They are even more so painful when the doctor won’t take a condition seriously, or can’t see you for three months. These men and women, each of them having given up their time with loved ones, their energy, and often blood, deserve more than to be shuffled off to the side, ignored until something goes horribly wrong and it’s too late for them.
Veterans should not feel as if the only solution to their chronic pain or mental illness is to take their own life. They should not feel the need to kill themselves sitting in their car with their service records before someone takes them seriously and truly listens to what they have to say. Yet, every day, many feel this way and, every day, so many leave this world that they gave so much in.
For the caregivers and loved ones who have to watch as their loved ones struggle to get, at times, even basic care in a timely fashion, it can be a different kind of devastating to feel so helpless. Very rarely does the VA choose to take the spouses of veterans seriously, even if they’re the ones who care for and are around that veteran more often than anyone else. To be shoved to the side when your only goal is to get help for your loved one can make that feeling even worse. They weren’t the ones wounded, injured, or ill, but, for the wars at home, they’re often on the front lines. They deserve better, period.
With the legalization of medical marijuana spreading across the country also comes something many veterans and their loved ones have lacked for some time: hope for a healthier tomorrow, for a pain free tomorrow, or even just to see tomorrow at all. Now that Oklahoma has joined the green ranks of the nation for medical cannabis, Oklahoma vets are benefiting, and they’re eager to share those benefits with their brothers and sisters in arms who need it the most.
Daniel Robinson, a resident of Enid, is one of those veterans. An Army Infantry veteran of 14 years, he says he first became ill while he was deployed to Iraq in 2007. “I started to lose weight while I was in Iraq and my doctor could never really find a cause. By the time they medevaced me, I weighed about 115 pounds.” Once in the states, medical tests revealed that Robinson was suffering from severe Crohn’s disease, and his deployment had greatly irritated his condition. The Army medically discharged him, and he began the process of applying for his benefits. “I consider myself lucky. I didn’t have to put up much of a fight for my benefits. I applied and was approved right away.”
While the benefits application process went smoothly for him, he realized he was missing something. “I felt this really empty hole in me. Going from a life working to a life not working left me feeling really useless.” Rather than wallow in that emptiness, Robinson decided to get involved with different charities, and ended up going on a survivalist training trip that lasted a month out in the woods. “The people on that trip ended up changing his entire life,” he says. “The guys on that trip were smoking, and they were telling me all about cannabis. I’m from a law enforcement family, and so I had really bought into the ‘reefer madness’.” Talking honestly with the people on that trip in the wilderness helped open his mind to the benefits cannabis can give to patients who use it. After a trip to Colorado to see the cannabis industry first hand, his now-wife, Alycia, got involved with the 788 movement right away.
Robinson says that since getting his medical marijuana card he uses cannabis daily. “It’s completely flipped the switch on my symptoms.” Knowing that he wanted to help veterans get the strains they needed for whatever their injury or illness, both mental or physical, he and his wife set to opening a dispensary in Enid, Urbn Roots. “I want to help others, because this has helped me more than anything.”
Despite how easy the benefits process was compared to many veterans, even Robinson can see the VA’s failings. “It’s a rollercoaster of addiction. Their goal isn’t to solve your problem and to make you better. Their goal is to throw pills at you and move you along.” His contact with the VA is minimal, especially now that he’s a legal cannabis patient, but he says it’s easy to see why there’s a problem. There’s no consistency with doctors. You could have an appointment every month and almost never see the same doctor twice. You can’t build that relationship with your healthcare provider that helps them decide the best way to help you, so they just try to move the problem down the road.”
Where the VA has failed countless veterans, cannabis is beginning to help people pick up the pieces of their lives. “I’m permanently disabled, but I’ve been using cannabis instead of the VA, and I’m better than I have been in years. I have my life back, and I don’t have the VA to thank. It is solely the cannabis.” Robinson says he’s still working to find the perfect dosage for him, but he can see the difference in himself, and so can his loved ones.
As for the VA, it’s disheartening for veterans to have to struggle so much for basic care. “As an American soldier, we’re willing to do whatever is necessary to complete the mission. All we want in exchange is to be taken care of when we come home.” A fair exchange, considering that less than 2% of the country’s population serves in the armed forces, and that’s if you’re counting those already retired. There are approximately 22 million veterans that are alive today in the United States. That’s 22 million men and women who have likely given more than most citizens realize to serve their country, whether for four years, a decade, or the magic twenty. That’s 22 million men and women who, if the VA can’t take care of them properly, deserve a joint at the very least. Where the VA is known to cause heartache, stress, and even be outright neglectful in severe cases, cannabis heals, soothes, and helps shed light for those who only see darkness in their days ahead.