In 2003, US Navy Corpsman Jeremy Usher (now 31) returned to Colorado from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Usher, serving as combat medic, was shot in the back of the head as his helicopter was leaving a retrieval site, leaving him with a stutter and memory problems. He, like many young people who endured the hardships of war, suffers from PTSD. Upon returning home, Jeremy briefly convalesced at a San Diego hospital before being released with an “OK, good luck.”
Usher experienced intense paranoia, often spinning in circles while wandering the San Diego streets to ensure no one was about to ambush him. Any sound or sensation that created a war-like effect would send him reeling. “Fourth of July has always been hell for me,” said Usher. Sleep, when our bodies and minds are supposed to able to rest and repair, only brought more torment to Usher, who would wake with nightmares.
In the grips of that level of metal stress, trying to follow the rules in a lackluster support system, Jeremy turned to alcohol to mitigate the symptoms of PTSD. If the alcohol provided some relief, it also brought something less welcome to Jeremy’s life: a criminal record. In the span of a few months, he received several DUI’s and a harassment charge for repeatedly calling his ex-girlfriend.
After serving some time in jail, Usher was released on probation. Out of jail and unable to use alcohol any longer, he turned to medical cannabis. Jeremy now attends counseling and is in his third year of community college classes.
Medical cannabis has undeniably been a positive treatment for Usher. However, even though MMJ is legal in Colorado, using marijuana technically violates the terms of Usher’s parole. A judge refused his petition to continue using MMJ while on parole. Usher now has a prescription for Marinol, a ridiculously expensive synthetic form of THC. At $18 a pill, the expense of Marinol forces vets like Jeremy with PTSD to make the hard decision of rationing out their wellness.
“The court systems are very black and white, and PTSD is the definition of gray area,” claims Usher. “I’m never going to be free of the flashes of the memories; I’m stuck with those for life. What I’m able to do is manage those in an appropriate manner, without just going out and cracking open a bottle.”
To me, this level of blind allegiance to the letter of the law does far more harm than good. I understand that we need to adhere to a certain set of rules/laws in order to maintain a functional society, but who can honestly say that someone like Jeremy (and the city/state/country) as a whole is not better served by simply letting him have access to a safe medicine that provides him some relief? The lack of proper PTSD support drives people toward the morass of alcoholism, then locks them up with a criminal history, then flat our refuses to let them have what will actually help them feel better.
The things our vets have seen and gone through and the simple fact that they, regardless of outcomes or political opinions, truly believe they are honorably serving their country should make their care/recovery a top priority. Let me know what you think.
This article was originally published by the Greely Tribune (Greely, CO).