Veterans Push Feds To Recognize Marijuana As A Treatment

Janine Lutz in front of her Memorial Wall, which she built with photos of veterans who committed suicide. Families of the vets send photos to her through her Live To Tell foundation. CREDIT: Julio Ochoa/Health News Florida

 

The following story is from my WUSF Public Radio colleague Julio Ochoa.

Originally published on August 16, 2018 9:29 am

Charles Claybaker spent five tours in Afghanistan, kicking in doors and taking out terrorists. But an aircraft crash in 2010 left the Army Ranger with a crushed leg, hip and spine and a traumatic brain injury.

Army doctors loaded him up with a dozen prescriptions to numb the pain and keep his PTSD in check.

But on the pills, Claybaker went from a highly-trained fighting machine to a zombie for at least two hours a day.

“I mean, I’m talking mouth open, staring into space,” Claybaker said.

Claybaker decided he would rather live in constant pain. He took himself off opioids and endured the discomfort for eight months.

Then, after retiring and moving back to St. Petersburg, he discovered marijuana – and it changed his life.

“I can just take a couple of puffs sometimes. It just depends on the day and what’s going on or how bad it is,” Claybaker said.

Marijuana instantly relieved his pain and helped with his anxiety. Claybaker says marijuana also helped him focus and he finally started feeling more like himself.

“I was a 2013 gold medalist at the Warrior Games in archery, I graduated summa cum laude from Eckerd College, I started my own charity. I adopted my 14-year-old brother who is now on a full-ride scholarship to Oregon State,” he said. “I understand that marijuana has some ills, but for me personally, it absolutely helped me do all those things.”

In order to get the drug, though, he had to break the law. Even with medicinal marijuana legal in Florida, the federal government says it’s a crime. Claybaker and other soldiers can’t get a prescription from the VA and their insurance won’t cover it. The out-of-pocket costs to buy a month’s supply from a dispensary can be upwards of $500.

Claybaker was featured in a 20-page report by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune about veterans who want the government to reclassify marijuana to reflect its medical value. The vets are using the drug to treat conditions ranging from pain to PTSD.

Reclassifying marijuana from a schedule 1 drug – which has no medical value – would open doors to research and treatment at the VA.

Janine Lutz, who was also featured in the Herald-Tribune’s report, joined the effort after her son committed suicide in 2013.

“The drugs killed my son,” Lutz said.

Janos (John) V. Lutz was a Lance Corporal in the Marine Corps who served two tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He returned home to Davie in 2011 with injuries to his knee and back and a severe case of PTSD.

Doctors at the VA prescribed an anti-anxiety medication, despite a note in his records that it had led to a previous suicide attempt. His mom says he was dead within a week.

“I would call that a pharmaceutically-induced suicide,” Janine Lutz said. “And I actually sued the VA for that and I won my case.”

Lutz received $250,000 in a settlement with the VA.

Today Lutz runs the Live To Tell Foundation, which supports military veterans. Families of vets who committed suicide send her their photos, which she laminates and links to her traveling Memorial Wall.

Her “Buddy Up” events bring veterans together so they can form bonds and look out for one another.

It was at those events that she learned how many veterans self-medicate with marijuana. With about 20 veterans committing suicide every day in the United States, Lutz says the government needs to act.

“Stop playing games with the lives of America’s sons and daughters and if they want cannabis, give it to them and stop giving them these psychotropic dangerous drugs that are destroying their bodies and their minds,” Lutz said.

The American Legion polled its 2 million members – war veterans – and found that 92 percent favored marijuana research. In addition, 22 percent reported using marijuana for medical reasons.

The group has since joined in the effort to push Congress to reclassify marijuana from a Schedule 1 drug.

So far, that request has gone nowhere.

At a recent stop in Orlando, new VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said he has got to follow the rules.

“I’m not a doctor, never played one on television. I’m not a scientist,” Wilkie said. “I will follow the federal law. And the federal law is very clear.”

Charles Claybaker says he and other soldiers deserve better. Claybaker started speaking out after a good friend and fellow ranger committed suicide.

“I think that the government owes it to the veteran to provide the most beneficial treatments for their injuries,” he said.

Marijuana, he said, helps him get through the dark times. He thinks it can help others too.

The radio version of this story is available here.

Continue reading

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A Memorial Ceremony For Military Suicide Survivors

This is the third year the American Legion Post 5, 3810 W. Kennedy Blvd, Tampa, is reaching out to family members and friends who have lost a veteran or military member to suicide.

The hope is to give an opportunity to remember loved ones, to honor their service to the country and to erase the stigma surrounding service members who have died by suicide.

“This event and message will focus on family members and friends who silently suffer the lost of their loved one to their battle with their inner demons,” stated Ellsworth “Tony” Williams, a retired Army combat veteran and chair of the American Legion Florida 15th District Veteran Affairs and Rehab.

The ceremony is Sunday, May 21, 2017 at 1 p.m. at Post 5, 3810 W. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa, FL.

New Report: Suicide 21 Percent Greater Risk For Veterans

veteran_suicide_crisisline_graphicAfter releasing a summary in early July, the Department of Veterans Affairs today released its  full report on veteran suicides.

The Suicide Among Veterans and Other Americans 2001-2014 is a comprehensive analysis that looked at more than 55 million veterans’ records  from 1979 to 2014 from every state in the nation.

Some key findings from this year’s report include:
  • In 2014, an average of 20 veterans died by suicide each day. Six of the 20 were users of the VA Health services.
  • In 2014, veterans accounted for 18 percent of all adult deaths by suicide in the U.S. but only make up 8.5 percent of the population age 18 or older.
  • In 2014, about 67 percent of all suicides by veterans a firearm was used.
  • Approximately 65 percent of all veterans who died from suicide in 2014 were 50 years of age or older.
  • Since 2001, U.S. adult civilian suicides increased 23 percent, while Veteran suicides increased 32 percent in the same time period. After controlling for age and gender, this makes the risk of suicide 21 percent greater for Veterans.

A fact sheet is available and the VA is taking several measures to increase prevention programs and access to care and the Veterans Crisis Line: 800-273-8255.

 

Art Therapy in Action at Veterans Open Mic Night

Veterans Open Mic night with co-hosts playwright Linda Parris-Bailey (center) and Andrea Assaf (right).

Veterans Open Mic night with co-hosts playwright Linda Parris-Bailey (center) and Andrea Assaf (right).

Beyond the battlefield and the barracks, some of Florida’s 1.5 million veterans have had trouble transitioning to civilian life. Yet, there are signs that poetry, art, music and performance are helping veterans adjust.

With Veterans’ Day approaching, we bring you their stories this week in a special edition of Florida Matters.

These are highlights from the October 2014 <a href=”http://art2action.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/veterans-open-mic-flyer-2014-vfp.pdf”>Veterans Open Mic Night</a> at Tampa’s <a href=”http://www.sacredgroundstampa.com/”>Sacred Grounds Coffee House</a>. Military veterans meet there every first Sunday to share their talents and stories.

Cheldyn Donovan is a Vietnam Veteran who has experienced homelessness, PTSD, social phobia, but he finds playing the guitar eases his symptoms.

Cheldyn Donovan is a Vietnam Veteran who has experienced homelessness, PTSD, social phobia, but he finds playing the guitar eases his symptoms.

The WUSF <em>Veterans Coming Home</em> project partnered with <a href=”http://art2action.org/veterans-in-tampa/”>Art-2-Action Tampa Veterans</a> to bring you this evening of poetry and music with military veterans.

The emcees for the evening were Andrea Assaf, director of Art-2-Action, and guest playwright Linda Parris-Bailey who wrote the play, Speed Killed My Cousin, about returning veterans.

The highlights feature veterans Charla  Gautierre, Cheldyn Donovan and Marc Reid. Listen below to the Florida Matters 30-minute special show featuring the veterans as performers which aired Nov. 4 and Nov. 9, 2014.

 

A Veteran’s Voice: It’s Okay to Talk About Suicide

One of the groups from the TAPS Good Grief Camp in St. Pete Beach, FL for 170 children who a military service member or recent veteran who died by suicide.

One of the groups from the TAPS Good Grief Camp in St. Pete Beach, FL for 170 children who a military service member or recent veteran who died by suicide.

By Kiersten Downs

WUSF Veterans Coming Home Outreach Coordinator

Over time, the sharp and jagged pieces of a broken green bottle have been transformed into a smooth and beautiful beach gem that we call sea glass. While sitting in a circle with fellow mentors and mentees, we were asked by our group leader what was special about the sea glass.

My nine-year-old mentee raised her little hand and in a sweet and shaky voice said, “that it changed over time”.

This was the theme for the National Military Suicide Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp for Young Survivors held this past weekend in St. Pete Beach, Florida by the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS).

For those who are unfamiliar with the work of this incredible organization, TAPS provides immediate and long-term emotional help, hope, and healing to all who are grieving the death of a loved one in military service to America. The 170 children who participated in the Good Grief Camp have lost a military loved one to suicide.

I am not alone in saying that participating in the Good Grief Camp, as a mentor was one of the most powerful volunteer efforts I have ever experienced.

A resounding theme repeated throughout the weekend that needs to be replicated not just at a suicide seminar but on our military bases is that “suicide is talked about here”. The existing stigma surrounding suicide gravely impacts those who have lost a loved one and silence on the subject also silences the living memories of those who have died, complicating grief even further.

We understand that not everyone is at the point where they can talk openly about what brought them to the camp, but by stating that “suicide is talked about here” we are letting them know that this is a safe place where they can honor the memories of their loved ones with people who care and often times share similar life experiences.

What I witnessed was a community of people coming together to help heal open wounds, some new and some long-standing. We painted together, we talked together, we cried together. We watched as kids were allowed to be kids.

My mentee left footprints on my heart and taught me one of the most important lessons of all time. On Sunday afternoon, after we watched as the ocean waves washed away the words that we drew in the sand – “bad thoughts” and “nightmares” – I asked her what she was going to take home from camp. Her reply was, “that things change with time and it’s okay to talk about it.”

For more information go to www.taps.org. If you or a loved one are in crisis, Veterans and their loved ones can call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1chat online, or send a text.

Military Families Serve Too, So Center Offers Help

Family therapy, couples therapy, individual therapy, even weight management groups are all services that have been available at the USF Psychological Services Center for decades. Now, the center’s director, who served 10 years in the U.S. Army, is reaching out to the veteran and military families offering help.

Photo courtesy of the USF Psychological Services Center.

Photo courtesy of the USF Psychological Services Center.

“We know that there are veterans, for whatever reason, are still hesitant about seeking services in the VA,” said Jack Darkes, director of the University of South Florida Psychological Services Center.

Veterans and active-duty personnel both worry that they could lose their security clearance or a possible promotion if it becomes known they’re seeking psychological help.

But because USF’s clinic does not take insurance, Darkes said, a client’s records are confidential.

“Being basically a private pay, our records are under the control of the individual who pays for them. There is no third party payer involved and therefore anything that would happen in our clinic is confidential within the limits of the law,” Darkes said.

The law says therapists must report child or elder abuse or if their client is a threat to themselves or someone else. Everything else is confidential.

Another attractive option at the USF clinic is the price. Fees are on a sliding scale. Continue reading

PTSD: An Army Veteran Writes to Find Peace

Alex Cook in Afghanistan.

Hi, Internet.

I’m Alex.  I’m a veteran who has been struggling with what I call the “Army Sads.”  I guess it’s PTSD.  I went to Iraq and Afghanistan, but I wasn’t a combat arms guy.

I’ve been out for three years, but I’m not quite over it.  I’m trying.  I don’t wake up in the middle of the night screaming about IEDs, and I have all my limbs.  I feel guilty that I’ve let my time in the army affect me so deeply when so many have had it worse.  I’m only now able to confront my feelings and work on getting through them.

I can only imagine how many people like me are out there.  People who “served their country” and haven’t quite come to grips with what that means.  Maybe they’re mostly fine, but something inside them keeps them from being who they wish they could be.

Maybe they have trouble leaving their own room, the way I did for months on end.  People who don’t even want to acknowledge that they were ever in the military, or people who miss it.  People that bristle at being called heroes and don’t want anyone’s pity.  People that aren’t sure how they feel about anything, but worry that what they do feel is wrong somehow.

I want to talk to those people.

We may be Veterans with a capital V, but we’re just people.  We happened to go to war, is all.  We’re all unique: we all feel something different.  We’re connected, though, whether we like it or not.  We can help each other.  We can find meaning and purpose in a confusing world.  We can become who we want to be.  We’re not defined by our experiences or our emotions.  We can make ourselves be understood.  We can find peace.

I’m going to start writing regularly for this blog.  I’ll be sharing my personal experiences as I try to find my own way in the world.

Hopefully it will help someone.  It’ll definitely be therapeutic for me.  I’ve suffered alone and I know how miserable it can be, but we’re not alone.  We have people who want to help us and we have each other.

I’ll write about a new form of therapy I recently tried in my next entry.  It’s called Accelerated Resolution Therapy and it’s available for free at USF.  They even pay you to fill out some surveys.

It sounds a little scary, but maybe with my account you’ll decide it’s something for you.

(Spoiler alert: it probably is.  Check it out at http://health.usf.edu/nocms/nursing/restore-lives/ss_2.html or call (813) 974-9310 if you’re interested.  They’re very nice.)

If you’re a vet, or just care about one, and have a story to tell, this blog might just be the place to do it.  If you want to get in touch with me, e-mail me at operationfindingfreedom@gmail.com.  I’m not an expert on anything, but I know some people who care.  I care.

The important thing to remember is that we’re not alone.

So let’s get better.

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