Advocates and veterans used Veterans Day as an opportunity to bring awareness to the physical and psychological suffering of vets and how medical marijuana could help them.
“Pot Over Pills” protestors camped out in front of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on Tuesday to draw attention to the fact that nearly 2 dozen veterans die from suicide each day. The advocates wants the VA to recognize medical marijuana as a legitimate alternative to the often dangerous pills doled out to the nation’s heroes in this country, many of which can increase suicidal thoughts and feelings.
Jose Martinez, 26, served in Afghanistan and lost his arm in 2012. He has experienced the negative side effects of opiate pills, which had been prescribed to him to cope with the pain from losing his arm.
“I went from being this statue, this amazing person that was unbeatable to … [being] wheelchair-bound for life. I hated everybody, I didn’t want to be around anybody,” Martinez said. “Opiate pills just induced me into all that. I started getting more and more depressed.”
By the VA’s own admission, between 18 and 22 vets commit suicide daily. That number may be higher, though, as there is no uniform reporting system for deaths in America. Funeral directors and coroners are typically the ones to enter veteran status and suicide on a death certificate, but neither the Defense Department nor the VA verifies that status. 
The protest, held across the street from VA headquarters, was fronted by Dopefest, MagicalButter, The Cannaball Run, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and other veterans support groups and marijuana advocacy groups.
In Texas, the vets, who are associated with the pro-legalization group Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy (TRMP), rallied at a parade for the right to treat their wounds with medical marijuana. In that state, only a non-psychoactive marijuana oil product is permitted for the treatment of seizures. Dozens of former Army, Marine, Air Force and Navy servicemen and servicewomen marched in Austin’s Veterans Day parade, calling for much wider legalization.
After the parade, the vets gathered at the Vietnam War memorial near the statehouse to announce the launch of the Operation Trapped campaign. The movement is designed to raise awareness of veterans’ desire for edible and smokable medical marijuana.
To raise awareness, Operation Trapped seeks to collect from veterans 1,000 pill bottles that once contained painkillers, antidepressants or mood stabilizers, each containing a slip of paper with the veteran’s name, rank and date of service. The group will then place a toy soldier in each bottle and present them to lawmakers at the start of the Texas state legislature’s next session, beginning in January 2017. The bottles are meant to depict the numerous veterans who feel trapped by the Big Pharma options available to them in the state. 
“We feel trapped by pharmaceutical drugs, and we want access to medical marijuana instead of addictive painkillers and psychotropic medication,” said TRMP spokesman Dave Bass, 59, a retired Army major and native Texan who served in Iraq in 2004 and 2005.
“We don’t want to be treated as criminals,” Bass said. “We have jobs, we pay taxes, some of us go to universities on the GI Bill, yet Texas makes us into criminals because we choose to use medical cannabis.”
A recent study published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs suggests that medical marijuana is an effective treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Study participants showed a 75% decrease in PTSD symptoms when smoking marijuana. Scientists say more research is needed.
Medical marijuana is legal in some states, but it is still illegal under federal law, which makes many VA doctors uncomfortable about recommending it to their patients. The Senate approved legislation on Tuesday, however, with a provision that would allow VA doctors to recommend marijuana for patients in states that have legalized it for medical use.
Before the bill can become law, it much first meld with legislation which passed the House.
Featured image from IBTimes
Julie Fidler is a freelance writer, legal blogger, and the author of Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two ridiculously spoiled cats. She occasionally pontificates on her blog.