VA Not High on Medical Marijuana as PTSD Treatment for Veterans

VA Not High on Medical Marijuana as PTSD Treatment for Veterans

Veteran Administration’s Position Hurts Veterans Suffering From PTSD

At Once A Soldier, our dedicated team understands the detrimental and debilitating impact that PTSD can have on soldiers, veterans, and their families. This is why we support a variety of local and federal initiatives that aim to support veterans and their families as they cope with the crippling effects of PTSD. Among the initiatives supported by Once A Soldier are those related to the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes. However, despite the fact that marijuana has been proven to have positive effects on soldiers and veterans suffering from PTSD, legislation that allows marijuana to have a role at the VA will not be supported.

At Once A Soldier, we believe that anything clearly proven to help soldiers and veterans cope with their trauma should be supported by the VA. As our CEO and Chairman, Dave Barbush states, “The Veterans Administration was right in deferring to US law, but needed to go the extra step for Veterans, something they’ve proven they’re incapable of.”

 

Veteran families of soldier suicide tells us that, after a suicide, that the actual suicide becomes the least of their problems. Money and the business of death become their enemy.

VA Refuses to Modernize

Lack of Education Is Killing Our Veterans

 

This recent announcement by the VA is disappointing to our team at Once A Soldier, as there have been numerous studies proving marijuana’s effectiveness in alleviating PTSD symptoms. As local governments across the nation deem marijuana fit for medical and recreational use, researchers have been able to study its effects in more detail than ever before. Much of this research has found that, by balancing the various chemical compounds found in marijuana, the plant can be used to effectively treat common ailments such as anxiety, insomnia and pain. Because of this, medical marijuana has been proven to be highly effective when treating those diagnosed with PTSD, many of whom are soldiers and veterans.

Typically, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, commonly referred to as PTSD, develops after an individual experiences a traumatic or life-altering event, such as serving in combat or being on active duty. PTSD can lead to chronic nightmares, flashbacks, and cause difficulty sleeping and functioning normally in daily life. PTSD can often be so severe that an individual’s overall emotional state and perception of the world around them can be damaged forever.

Marijuana is capable of alleviating some of these harmful symptoms because of two main components found in the plant: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is responsible for binding to specific receptors in the brain that regulate mood, sleep patterns, and perceptions of pain. Many scientists also believe that THC interacts with the amygdala and hippocampus (the brain’s main emotional centers) to help reduce anxiety.

CBD, on the other hand, is not as widely understood due to its complexity, however researchers do understand it’s influence on the body’s endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system is responsible for maintaining the body’s emotional homeostasis, as well as regulating memory consolidation, retrieval and extension. CBD improves the endocannabinoid system’s mediation of essential functions, including memory consolidation and retrieval. When CB1 and CB2 receptors located throughout this core system are activated, cannabinoids can prompt the system to produce neurotransmitters that promote happiness, pleasure, and memory. These specific cannabinoids play an important role in assisting veterans suffering from PTSD by preventing the brain from retrieving the underlying trauma, effectively preventing traumatic memories and nightmares, while also helping the individual attain an overall state of emotional wellbeing.

There are currently three bills in front of the House Veterans Affairs Health Subcommittee that relate to medical marijuana access for veterans. One, the Veterans Equal Access Act, H.R. 1647, sponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, would allow VA health providers to recommend medical marijuana to their veteran patients and fill out the necessary paperwork for them to enroll in state marijuana programs. However, the VA responded to these efforts with the following statement:

“[The House Veterans Affairs Committee] can make strong proposals for us to move forward with recommendations of filling out forms and such but, in the end, we need to go back to the [Drug Enforcement Agency] and [Justice Department] for their opinion,” – Larry Mole, chief consultant for population health at the VA.

If you are interested in supporting Once A Soldier’s mission to provide financial assistance to families of veterans who have committed suicide due to the unfortunate effects of PTSD, please donate to our cause today.

Once a Soldier Mission: Become the preferred channel for donors, advocates and volunteers who care about veteran families left behind after a soldier suicide. Financial and emotional support are offered to those families that demonstrate the need. Our Veterans are killing themselves in record numbers mostly due to PTSD. An overmatched VA can’t take care of them or their families. We will. Soldier suicide leaves Veteran families with thousands of dollars of bills unpaid, mostly bank loans. Learn more about our impact here.

Once a Soldier – The Voice of Veteran Families After a Soldier Suicide

Once a Soldier – The Voice of Veteran Families After a Soldier Suicide

Because Veteran Families Serve Just Like the Soldier

Since the beginning of the Stop Soldier Suicide era, the number 22 has been synonomous with the heartbreak and sadness. From our point of view, what happens after a veteran suicide doesn’t get enough attention. That’s why Once a Soldier was founded.

Veteran families of soldier suicide tells us that, after a suicide, that the actual suicide becomes the least of their problems. Money and the business of death become their enemy. 

The Silver Lining Project

Financial Aid Directly Applied to Their Funeral Expenses

Veterans who have fallen through the ever-widening gaps of the failing VA end up as Once a Soldier families. Many veterans transition to civilian life with very little bumps. Some try to live life with PTSD and it gets the best of them. Those are our families and their life is not easy. Neither is their death.

The chart below shows the average costs of a funeral. There’s a misconception that that VA pays for a veterans’ funeral costs. Not true. Our veteran families are living paycheck to paycheck and to suddenly pay thousands of dollars for a flight or for a funeral home is simply not possible.

Military Deaths and PTSD

PTSD is the Deadly Gift that Keeps on Giving

A traumtic incident can occur out of nowhere. Driving to the store for a coffee can end up with a tragic accident. PTSD can come with it. Family members can and do find their dead veterans. Imagine walking into the bathroom and seeing that. Of course it’s hard for anyone to forget and move on. We know that every member of our families deal with PTSD-related issues every minute of every day.

From the beginning of modern day warfare, PTSD packed along in every American war. Using different names such as “shell shock”, PTSD was only recognized as a distinct disorder in the 1980’s. In earlier wars such as World War II, 37% of soldiers who saw direct combat were discharged for psychiatric reasons and 24% of soldiers who saw direct combat in the Korean War were discharged for psychiatric reasons. That’s 1 out of 4 men, and for us, that’s 25% of their families, too. Veteran families of soldier suicide pay that same price.

Once a Soldier Rejects VA’s Position on Medical Marijuana Bills

Once a Soldier Rejects VA’s Position on Medical Marijuana Bills

H.R. 1647 Seeks to Help Veterans – One of Three Newly Proposed

“The Veterans Administration was right in deferring to US law, but needed to go the extra step for Veterans, something they’ve proven they’re incapable of.”, Dave Barbush, CEO and Chairman of Once a Soldier said recently.

“Opioid abuse is much more deadly than marijuana. Denying them the same rights that many other Americans enjoy boggles the mind. Bill 1947 is called Veterans Equal Access Act for a reason. Big Pharma and the VA need to reconsider their relationship.

Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), sponsor of H.R. Bill 1967

During a hearing Tuesday on eight VA health-related bills under consideration by Congress, VA officials told House lawmakers that as long as marijuana is illegal under federal law, the department cannot support legislation that promotes its role at the VA.

“[The House Veterans Affairs Committee] can make strong proposals for us to move forward with recommendations of filling out forms and such but, in the end, we need to go back to the [Drug Enforcement Agency] and [Justice Department] for their opinion,” said Larry Mole, chief consultant for population health at the VA.

Three of the bills before the House Veterans Affairs health subcommittee relate to medical marijuana. One, the Veterans Equal Access Act, H.R. 1647, sponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, would allow VA health providers to recommend medical marijuana to their veteran patients and fill out the necessary paperwork for them to enroll in state marijuana programs.

A recently released poll conducted by The American Legion showed that nearly 1 in 4 veterans self-reported using marijuana to alleviate a medical or physical condition.

From a NORML article:

In the House, Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) has reintroduced H.R. 1647, the Veterans Equal Access Act, which expands medical cannabis access to eligible military veterans.

Presently, V.A. doctors are forbidden from providing the paperwork necessary to complete a recommendation, thus forcing military veterans to seek the advice of a private, out-of-network physician. Passage of this bill would lift this prohibition.

In the 114th Congress, majorities in both the US House and Senate voted to include similar language as part of the Fiscal Year 2017 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations bill. However, Republicans sitting on the House Appropriations Committee elected to remove the language from the bill during a concurrence vote.

Veterans are increasingly turning to medical cannabis as an effective alternative to opioids and other conventional medications. A retrospective review of patients’ symptoms published in 2014 in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs reported a greater than 75 percent reduction CAPS (Clinician Administered Post-traumatic Scale) symptom scores following cannabis.

Our veterans deserve the option to legally access a botanical product that is objectively safer than the litany of pharmaceutical drugs it could replace.

PTSD Brain Scans Fall Short for Diagnosis

PTSD Brain Scans Fall Short for Diagnosis

What Do Brain Scans Tell Us About PTSD?

Although researchers do not use brain scans to diagnose PTSD in the clinic, they use them to understand what happens in the PTSD brain.

There is abundant evidence for changes in the structure and function of different areas of brain involved in fear response and anxiety, regulation of emotions, cognitive processing and memory.

For example, there is consistent evidence for reduced volume in the brain region called the hippocampus, which is involved in memory and context processing. This leads to difficulties differentiating cues that resemble trauma, such as the slamming of a door, from the trauma cue itself, such as a gunshot.

What are brain scans?

A brain scan is a general term that covers a diverse group of methods for imaging the brain. In psychiatric clinical practice, brain scans are mostly used to rule out visible brain lesions that may be causing psychiatric symptoms.

However, in research we use them to learn about the pathologies of the brain in mental illness. A common method is magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) that allows us to look at the changes in the volume and structure of different areas of the brain, and integrity of the pathways connecting them.

Then there is functional MRI (fMRI). This method examines blood flow in different areas of the brain as a measure of their dynamic function, mostly in response to a task or event, such as thinking about trauma or viewing of a trauma-related image. I use fMRI in my research to look at the brain circuitry involved in how people can be instructed to learn fear and safety. Positron emission tomography, or PET, and single photon emission CT, or SPECT, are also used in looking at brain function.

At the current stage of the technology and research, psychiatrists, psychologists and neuroscientists only use these methods for researching the brain changes in mental illness, and not for making diagnoses.

In other words, researchers have to combine data from tens of people with a mental illness to determine how, on average, different areas of their brain may differ in volume or function from others. 

 

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How do we diagnose PTSD?

Like most other psychiatric conditions, PTSD is a clinical diagnosis. That means psychiatrists diagnose PTSD by the symptoms presented by the patient. Clinicians look for a constellation of symptoms for a diagnosis:

    • history of exposure to trauma
    • intrusive symptoms such as frequent flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive memories
    • avoiding any reminder of trauma (for example, a veteran avoiding watching the movie “Saving Private Ryan”) and its memories
    • hyperarousal, or being overly vigilant, having sleep disturbances, being easily startled negative thoughts or feelings
      significant distress or dysfunction.

When enough number of the above criteria is met, a clinician makes a diagnosis of PTSD.

Clinicians and researchers use the above criteria for consistency in research. They want to be sure that what they call PTSD across different studies passes the threshold of a certain severity and diversity of symptoms.

However, effects of trauma may not reach the “diagnostic threshold” forPTSD, but can still be very stressing. A traumatized person who has frequent nightmares and flashbacks and avoids leaving their house out of fear, is seriously stressed even though they may not meet the required number of “negative symptoms” per the diagnostic manual. From a clinical perspective, we still address their symptoms and treat them. In other words, what matters in clinical practice is helping with the symptoms that are distressing and cause dysfunction.

Population of U.S. Suffering PTSD

PTSD is common, affecting 8% of the U.S. population, up to 30% of the combat exposed veterans, and 30%-80% of refugees and victims of torture.

This Once a Soldier blog/advocacy post was reprinted in part with permission from and can be found here. 

VA Needs Greater Accountability for Parking Lot Suicides

VA Needs Greater Accountability for Parking Lot Suicides

Motivation Behind Back-to-Back Georgia Suicides Falls at the feet of the VA. This is unacceptable period.

The practice of veterans committing suicide reached what was thought to be a high point last year when a Georgia veteran lit himself on fire in front of the Georgia Capital building. 

The crisis reached a new high over this past weekend in two separate Georgia Veterans Administration facilities where Veterans killed themselves in a final act of heroism. With their last breath, they are hoping to send this message that I carry for them: HELP THEM AND HELP THEIR FAMILIES NOW.

Mr. Barbush offered a multi-dimensional approach to the crisis. One that will cover the funeral expenses and one that will make the latest Ketamine therapy free for those who qualify. 

“The families can’t wait for a political solution, even one that allows them to access private health care. That new law is better than the status quo, but it will still prove flawed for this kind of crisis. Anyone using private health care knows that calling that the solution is like calling an aspirin a cure of cancer.”

In 2013, the Veterans Affairs Department disclosed that two of its officials had retired, three had been reprimanded and others were facing unspecified “actions” after reports of rampant mismanagement and patient deaths at the Atlanta VA Medical Center in Decatur. Federal inspectors issued scathing audits that linked mismanagement to the deaths of three veterans there. The Atlanta hospital drew attention again the following year after the murder-suicide of Marine veteran Kisha Holmes. She killed her three children and then herself at the family’s Cobb County apartment. VA officials knew she was in distress and had identified her as a suicide risk.

This story broke on April 08, 2019 by Jeremy Redmon of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. You can find the original article here, or read on as we have it below: 

Two Deaths in Two Georgia Veterans Administration Parking Lots

The first death happened Friday in a parking lot at the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center in Dublin, according to U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s office. The second occurred Saturday outside the main entrance to the Atlanta VA Medical Center in Decatur on Clairmont Road. The VA declined to identify the victims or describe the circumstances of their deaths, citing privacy concerns.An email the VA sent the Georgia Department of Veterans Service Monday about the Atlanta incident said VA clinical staff provided immediate aid to the male victim and called 911. The veteran was taken to Grady Memorial Hospital where he was pronounced dead.“This incident remains under investigation and we are working with the local investigating authorities,” the email continued. “The family has been contacted and offered support.”The victim in Atlanta was 68 years old and shot himself, according to a person familiar with the investigation who was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

In 2013, the VA disclosed that two of its officials had retired, three had been reprimanded and others were facing unspecified “actions” after reports of rampant mismanagement and patient deaths at the VA hospital in Decatur. Federal inspectors issued scathing audits that linked mismanagement to the deaths of three veterans there.In one case, a man who was trying to see a VA psychiatrist who was unavailable was told by hospital workers to take public transportation to an emergency room. He never did and died by suicide the next day. Another man died of an apparent drug overdose after providers failed to connect him with a psychiatrist. And a third patient died of an overdose of drugs given to him by another patient. The death of a fourth veteran, who killed himself in a hospital bathroom, later came to light.

In 2014, the Atlanta center drew attention again after the murder-suicide of Marine veteran Kisha Holmes. She killed her three children and then herself at the family’s Cobb County apartment. VA officials knew she was in distress and had identified her as a suicide risk.

And in November, the Government Accountability Office released a report saying the Veterans Health Administration had spent only $57,000 of the $6.2 million budgeted for fiscal year 2018 for suicide prevention media outreach because of leadership turnover and reorganization within the agency.“ By not assigning key leadership responsibilities and clear lines of reporting, VHA’s ability to oversee the suicide prevention media outreach activities was hindered and these outreach activities decreased,” the report said.

The VA said Monday it was reviewing its policies and procedures to see if changes are needed, adding all of its facilities provide “same-day urgent primary and mental health care services.” The agency also highlighted its Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and www.veteranscrisisline.net“Suicide prevention is VA’s highest clinical priority,” the VA said in a prepared statement.

“We are working alongside dozens of partners, including [the Department of Defense], to deploy suicide prevention programming that supports all current and former service members — even those who do not come to VA for care.” Isakson, chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, released a statement Monday, saying he was in touch with the VA about its investigations of last weekend’s suicides, calling them “tragedies that we hear about far too often.”

“While we have taken a number of steps to address and prevent veteran suicide, this weekend’s tragic deaths clearly indicate that we must do better,” he said. “We will redouble our efforts on behalf of our veterans and their loved ones, including our efforts to reduce the stigma of seeking treatment for mental health issues.”

Mike Roby, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Veterans Service, said he also is keeping in touch with the VA about what happened.“ I and my senior staff will stay in close contact with both medical directors and their staff as they work with the federal authorities through the investigations,” he said by email. “Our field service officers located at both medical centers remain ready to assist and support veterans and their families.”

ABOUT ONCE A SOLDIER

We are on a mission to offer financial aid to the families of veteran suicide. We have our Silver Lining Project and our Silver Lining Memorials. Both are designed to help the veteran families get back on their feet. If you care like we do, give here. 

 

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