I read a very moving piece in The Washington Post a few days ago, and it encouraged me to add my voice. I’ve lived in nearly constant chronic pain for over ten years, my husband suffers from PTSD, we both have severe anxiety. There is a medication that helps with all of those issues without the harsh side effects and addictive properties of most prescription painkillers and anxiety medications. However, because of where we live, we are not legally allowed to use that medication. That medication is, of course, cannabis.
“It’s not about getting stoned. It’s about getting help. The VA doesn’t have any problem giving us addictive pharmaceutical drugs by the bagful.” -Amy Rising, Air Force veteran
Even in states that have legal medical cannabis, VA doctors “are prohibited from recommending and prescribing medical marijuana for PTSD or other pain-related issues.” Let me be clear, there is a medication that can help, but doctors treating individuals that need it are prohibited from recommending it. That should be criminal. Sadly, it doesn’t stop there. Veterans living in states where cannabis is illegal could face criminal charges if they report their use to VA. According to The Washington Post, few have been charged but the possibility has caused a “don’t ask, don’t tell” culture between doctors and veterans. Some veterans who do report their usage are being told to choose between cannabis and their prescription painkiller by their doctors, who wrongly assume the use of cannabis with opiates is unsafe. Quite the opposite is true, The Washington Post cites a study published last month in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, which reported that “people already taking opioids for pain may supplement with medical marijuana and be able to lower their painkiller dose, thus lowering their risk of overdose.” The study, written by Marcus A. Bachhuber, a researcher at the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and several colleagues, found that “medical cannabis laws are associated with significantly lower state-level opioid overdose mortality rates.” Doctors from VA even had to speak with The Washington Post anonymously because they do not have permission from VA to discuss marijuana with the news media. Even so, they were able to speak with several pain management and PTSD specialists within VA who said they feel frustrated because prescription drugs are not helping patients who are suffering.
“Anecdotally we know it works, and more and more studies are saying this but we aren’t allowed to study it.” -PTSD expert who leads a large East Coast VA pain center
There are so many of us that have tried every pain killer and anxiety medication out there, none of which work. There is something that works, but unless you live in a state with medical cannabis and the laws happen to approve your condition, you’re stuck. We continue to suffer. Sure, many people continue to use cannabis in states without medical marijuana laws. Sometimes it’s the only thing that helps, sometimes it’s the only thing that keeps the panic attacks and the nightmares away, sometimes it’s the only thing that relieves the pain enough to get out of bed in the morning. But those people can face consequences. Simply for seeking the help they need. Not to mention spending a lot of money on whatever cannabis they are able to get. I know most people don’t realize this, but not all cannabis is the same. There are different strains, each with different characteristics and uses. Some are better for pain, some are better for anxiety, etc.
Scientists and doctors want to further research the medical uses of cannabis, yet it is nearly impossible. The one scientist researching cannabis for PTSD was fired in July from the University of Arizona after pressure from two Arizona Republican senators. It works. Sometimes it’s the only thing that works. So many people know this, yet so many of us continue to suffer.
Thank you so much for the support I received in regard to my last post. It truly means a lot, I’ve had a rough past couple of weeks and your support was very much appreciated.
My MRI showed that one of the tendons in my hip is inflamed, as well as the bursa sac. I can’t remember the name of the tendon at the moment. Today (two weeks after the MRI) I received a letter in the mail saying I’ve been approved to receive care outside the VA and go to physical therapy at my local hospital for the injury. I should hear from them within five business days according to the letter. I was sent there for physical therapy before the MRI and if anything it seemed to make it worse, but now that they actually know what is wrong, I’m a bit more optimistic. I’ll ask exactly what the injury is at physical therapy, since I can’t remember. I’m not optimistic about getting any sort of justice for my 0% disability rating, however. I’ll get into that in a minute.
Veterans Day is always hard for me, and the more I see Veterans being fucked over it just gets harder. This week I’ve read about more than 600 service members being exposed to chemical weapons, and information about those weapons withheld from from the troops and military doctors; veterans being deported after serving; and that the very board I need to appeal to to receive any justice for what happened to me, “routinely ignore the evidence, the medicine, the rules and the law to deny benefits to veterans.”
“It’s just outrageous. It seemed to me like they were bending over backwards to protect the army and justify its initial decision.” -Todd Holbrook, attorney
Fusion found that the board meets for five hours twice a week, deciding about 80 cases, giving an average of 3 minutes, 45 seconds to each case even though many are hundreds of pages long. Board members don’t have to read the full application, though, they are presented with a summary of the case and a recommendation by an analyst who works for the Board for Correction of Military Records (BCMR). However, lawyers say the summaries written by these analysts “regularly omit evidence brought by applicants.” A former board member spoke who spoke anonymously with Fusion said he signed off on analysts’ decisions more than 95 percent of the time.
“Even people presenting strong cases, they lose. You go through so much to get there, and then to have it fall apart, that can be really devastating. You just never know – when does the retaliation end and there’s just justice?” -Liz Luras, US Army veteran
Veterans, lawyers, and advocates told Fusion the same thing over and over, most people don’t even apply because it is such a long, difficult process, and they don’t think they have a chance.
“It’s very common knowledge in the veteran community how hard this is, so they don’t even try.” -Geoff Millard, Iraq war veteran and Policy Associate at Swords to Plowshares
I requested my military records at least four months ago and haven’t heard anything back yet. According to the Fusion piece, it is common for it to take months to receive records, and for it to take years to see a case through. I can’t even appeal my rating from the Army or apply for disability from the VA until I receive those records. Even once I do receive them, and submit proof of my injury, I’m highly skeptical they will actually grant me a higher disability rating. Or any disability rating for that matter. I’ve got proof, but apparently that doesn’t fucking matter. That doesn’t mean I won’t fight, I fully intend to appeal my disability rating and I will write about my experience here.
So yeah, Veterans Day is rough for me. It reminds me how I, my husband, and so many others have been fucked over by our government, and the people in power. It reminds me that so many people died in two failed wars based on lies. It reminds me how I was tossed aside like garbage when I was no longer capable of fighting their war.
My first post. I’ve been having a bit of a hard time finding the motivation to start writing again. My playlist is motivating me at the moment though, so I’m forcing myself. Bear with me. I guess I’ll start with introducing myself and telling you a bit of my story.
My name is Angie. I currently live in the small Nebraska town I grew up in with my husband and two daughters. I’ve lived here almost all of my life, though my time away from here is what really changed my life, so I’ll start there. In 2002 as a senior in high school I joined the US Army. I left the following July for basic training in South Carolina. I turned 18 at basic training. That Fall I left South Carolina for the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. I absolutely loved it there, and I genuinely loved the Army. I was looking forward to a career in military intelligence.
In the summer of 2004 I started experiencing pain in the right side of my lower back, hip, and right leg. I saw an Army doctor and was sent to physical therapy, which did not help the pain. An x-ray of my hip was taken, and later a lumbar spine MRI. Both were normal. From there I was sent to a “pain management” clinic where I was given injections and various medications, nothing to actually fix the problem, no further investigation into where the pain was coming from, just managing my symptoms. And even that wasn’t going well, I was in pain. Now it was January 2005 and the pain had spread into my lower leg and foot, as well as my upper back and neck, and I was getting migraines nearly daily. In June I graduated from my language course and was supposed to move on to another duty station. I couldn’t do any of the physical requirements of my job. Without doing any more tests to try to find the source of my pain, my doctor recommended me to the Medical Evaluation Board. Their conclusion was that I was “fit for duty.” Again, I couldn’t do any sort of physical activity, and was experiencing pain in the entire right side of my body. I appealed the findings of the board. I had no diagnosis for the cause of my pain so, of course, everyone but the people who actually knew me thought I was faking it. This is a literal quote from my commander on paperwork in my appeal:
I don’t understand how her condition suddenly worsened upon completion of highly lucrative skill training which the Army spent lots of $ on.
Except it didn’t. My condition had been the same for nearly a year at this point, but nobody would listen to me about it. Then finally, when I finished my training and it was time for me to move on somewhere else, they were forced to look into it. And because my doctor didn’t do her job and never found out what the fuck wrong with me, I was being accused of faking an injury to get out of the Army and go work for a government contractor.
I met my husband in Monterey. We got engaged just before he moved on to another station. He and almost all of my friends had left while I was still there fighting to prove that I was actually in pain. In the end, I’d say I lost that battle. In February 2006, I was given a medical discharge with a 0% disability rating and haven’t received shit from the military since. 0% disability means they don’t have to pay me disability. I’ve lived in nearly constant pain for the past 10 years. I’ve seen various civilian doctors as well as a chiropractor since being discharged but medical care gets expensive. When I got out of the military pre-existing conditions were still a thing, so even when I had insurance, up until recently anything involving my chronic pain I had to pay for myself. The only higher education my husband and I have is what we got in the military and we chose not to go the way of government contracting, so we’re not exactly well off. In fact, we’re quite the opposite. I haven’t even been able to work since getting discharged from the military due to the amount of pain I’m in.
Earlier this year while listening to Bernie Sanders talking about VA on the Thom Hartmann Program, I learned we were eligible to receive VA care because we are low income veterans. I was completely unaware I could be seen by the VA at that point, they had never reached out to either my husband or I. He’s been out for a few years as well and struggles with PTSD. After getting in contact with them, we also found out my husband had also been eligible for 5 years of free care after his deployment. That would have been nice to know.
I’ve been going to the VA clinic (which is 50 miles away) for about 3 months now. Another hip x-ray was taken. They looked at my old MRI. I was sent back to physical therapy and if anything that seemed to make the pain worse. I’ve been trying to get an MRI of my hip (because no one has ever done one) for over a month but communicating with a doctor 50 miles away isn’t easy. I made the drive and went to see her last week, even though I could barely afford it. I am going to get the MRI but the closest VA that can do an MRI is 200 miles away and the soonest they could get me in is next week. So, my husband has to take a day off work to take me there, and I get to sit in the car for a nearly 6 hour round trip. Sitting in the car for more than about 10 minutes is extremely painful for me. Yay… But at the very least, hopefully I will have some answers as to why I’m in pain and hopefully treatment options from there.
I’ve also accepted that I need to go back on some sort of medication. Ten years of constant pain is getting to me. I just started a medication to help both my depression and pain. Of course, the VA mails medication from one facility so it took over a week after my appointment to get to me. I’ve started it now, though and I’m hoping it will help… it says it will probably take a few weeks. It’s actually something I’ve taken before and worked quite well, but my insurance company at the time stopped covering it and I couldn’t afford it. Fuck the American medical system. At least I feel like the people I’m working with at the VA actually care and are doing the best within their power to help me.
So that’s where I’m at right now and it brings me back to why I’m writing. I’ve allowed my pain and depression to take over my life and I’m trying to push myself to do things that I used to enjoy and would like to continue but have let the pain keep me from doing.
If you would like to learn more about my family and I, please visit my About Me page.