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Restricting Veterans' Medical Cannabis Will Cost Lives

12/12/2016 04:02 EST | Updated 12/12/2016 04:21 EST
KatarzynaBialasiewicz via Getty Images
Young soldier suffering from depression after war

Why are so many military veterans reeling with "a sense of anger, hurt, frustration and betrayal?"

And why is a group of them marching on Parliament Hill?

Shockingly, it's because ex-servicemen with PTSD aren't getting our government's respect and full support.

Consequently, the suicide rate among ex-servicemen is at an all-time high. (I'll explain in a moment.)

This is why a group of wounded warriors have set out on a 1,000-kilometre trek to protest veterans' access to medical marijuana being severely curtailed.

This disregard is going to accelerate an already alarming body count of ex-servicemen driven to suicide.

Consider this: Canadian soldiers on active duty in war-torn regions like Afghanistan have always had the benefit of a mighty military infrastructure to back them up. Whether help comes in the form of artillery fire, jet fighters, or helicopter gunships, no expense is spared to support and protect our troops when the bullets start flying.

But is the federal government willing to continue to fork out $85 a day to keep each of our veterans with PTSD out of harm's way?

Apparently not!

And this disregard is going to accelerate an already alarming body count of ex-servicemen driven to suicide, according to some veterans' advocates.

Tragically, they're probably right.

What's at issue is Veterans Affairs' recent decision to severely curtail veterans' monthly allocations of medical marijuana -- a government-paid treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic pain.


On Monday, a small group of ex-servicemen mobilized from the headquarters of a veterans support group -- Marijuana for Trauma (MFT) -- in Oromocto, New Brunswick.

This winter march to Ottawa is expected to take 158 days -- a figure that corresponds with the number of veterans (so far) who have committed suicide after serving in Afghanistan.

Leading the long, tough slog is Fabian Henry, an Afghanistan war veteran and PTSD sufferer, who is also MFT's founder.

En-route to Ottawa, he and his comrades-in-arms expect to encounter snow, sleet, pounding rain and frigid sub-zero temperatures.

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But none of this will chill their hearts as much as Veterans Affairs' "horrendous betrayal," Henry says. "They want to save money by playing Russian roulette with veterans' lives."

He deals with suffering, stressed-out veterans every day. So I'm pretty sure he's not being melodramatic.

What's at stake is veterans' current legal access to as much as 10 grams of cannabis per day. That's meant to end on May 17 -- the day before MFT's protest march will culminate in a rally at Parliament.

The new ruling will ration each veteran to a maximum dosage of three grams a day. (Currently most consume about eight grams daily, Henry reckons.)

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This is necessary because the estimated $75-million cost this year for ex-soldiers' medical marijuana prescriptions is excessive. So says the Minister of Veterans Affairs, Kent Hehr.

A lawyer by profession, Hehr hasn't put his life on the line for his country and presumably doesn't have job-related PTSD. So he may not be in the best position to regard our hurting heroes as a bunch of stoners who over-indulge at taxpayers' expense.

Among those speaking out against the cutbacks is Shauna Davies, who served for 10 years in the military. Davies recently penned a heartfelt open letter to Hehr in which she referred to herself as "the wife of an injured veteran whose life has quite literally been saved by medical cannabis."

Her husband, Cyriaque, has battled severe PTSD for nearly a decade, ever since he returned from active duty as a medic in Afghanistan.

This must be why she writes that she finders herself "torn with a sense of anger, hurt, frustration and betrayal... Veterans should not have to fight their own government for the support and compensation they have earned."

The unacceptable alternative to cannabis for her husband and other veterans is a "smorgasbord" of debilitating pharmaceutical drugs that have the combined effect of a "chemical lobotomy," she writes.

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Some of these drugs can even cause veterans to become suicidal, she adds.

"I have helped my own husband from the brink after four suicide attempts, all which were proven to be directly caused by the medication interactions," the post continues. "In using medical cannabis, my husband has been able to cease using dangerous pharmaceutical medications. And he is far from alone."

Now she's terrified of what will happen if her husband's daily dosage is cut back to less than a third of what he needs. She concludes her poignant letter with a desperate plea: "This is life and death and the consequences will be devastating. I finally have my husband back. My children finally have their Daddy back. I beg you not to take him away from us again."

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Even at a cost of $85 a day for 10 grams, it's still relatively inexpensive medicine. The alternative for each PTSD sufferer is a "toxic cocktail" of pharmaceutical drugs that can cost up to hundreds of dollars a day.

Is Davies asking for too much?

Is her husband's mental and emotional health worth more than 25 bucks a day? Or should her daughters resign themselves to losing their daddy again?

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