Category Archives: VETERANS

"It’s the height of hypocrisy,"…

FDA Is Open To Medical Marijuana For Vets, But Other Agencies Stand In The Way

Mona Zhang , Contributor

Dr. Sue Sisley, a medical marijuana researcher, speaks at the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office Wednesday, April 14, 2010 at the Capitol in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned cannabidiol producers against making medical claims about cannabis products, it seemed par for the course for any federal agency. Cannabis is simply not considered medicine in the eyes of the government.

But the FDA actually appears pretty open to considering the potential of marijuana as medicine. “We’ve had good experiences working with the FDA,” said Brad Burge, communications director at the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). The non-profit is currently conducting the first FDA- and DEA-approved clinical trial on whole-plant marijuana and enrolled its 30th participant on October 26.

“We have a long relationship with the FDA — a lot through our MDMA research. They’ve been open to approving research protocols into Schedule I drugs,” said Burge. “It’s other regulatory agencies that have been standing in the way.”

It’s certainly unhelpful that the National Institutes of Drug Abuse have a monopoly on growing research cannabis. The Drug Enforcement Administration and the Justice Department aren’t helpful on this front either. But the lack of support for the study from Veterans Affairs (VA) is even more egregious.

Dr. Sue Sisley, the trial’s lead researcher, says she’s determined to focus on veterans for this study. She plans to examine the effects of cannabis on 76 subjects with treatment-resistant PTSD. Her main motivation in focusing on veterans is the epidemic of veteran suicides in the U.S. The VA estimates that about 22 veterans commit suicide every day – Sisley thinks that number is probably higher.

“As a scientist, I’m skeptical of subjective claims,” said Sisley. “[But] we have a mountain of anecdotal reports from veterans claiming that cannabis is lifesaving.”

The implications go beyond saving their lives – Sisley has heard plenty of military spouses and children sing the praises of the drug. “The kids will say, ‘I got my dad back’ after years of [him] being disengaged, irritable and mean,” she said.

Now, her main challenge is recruiting enough veterans who fit the study criteria and are able to participate on-site in Phoenix, Arizona. Sisley estimates that the Phoenix VA hospital has 20,000 veterans in their system who meet the study’s eligibility requirements. But the hospital is refusing to provide information about the study to its patients.

“[In] some of the states that have put in appropriate controls [for medical marijuana], there may be some evidence that this is beginning to be helpful,” said VA Secretary David Shulkin at a White House press briefing in May. “We’re interested in looking at that and learning from that.”

But Sisley says that Shulkin has so far refused to express support for her study: “It’s the height of hypocrisy,” she said.

“The VA Secretary could make a call to the Phoenix VA, and we could start sharing information with these patients,” said Sisley. “Why does it take political courage to defend a federally legal study? Not even defend it, just fast-track it. We’ve been stonewalled at every turn.”

The researchers have paid for various types of advertising and hired a veteran to oversee recruitment efforts. Still, “the issue for us is [getting] cooperation from the Phoenix VA hospital,” said Sisley. Recruitment has dwindled to a “pretty slow trickle.”

If the study fails to recruit 46 more veterans in the next couple of months, “we’ll have to reevaluate,” she said. “We fought for so many years and the veteran community has stood shoulder to shoulder with us, helping us kick down the doors… Many of them have adopted this trial as their own.”

The American Legion, a veterans organization that has more than 2 million members, called on the VA to support the clinical trial in September. “We ask for your direct involvement to ensure this critical research is fully enabled,” wrote the organization’s National Commander Denis Rohan in a letter to Shulkin. “[The study] could potentially produce scientific evidence that will enhance, improve, and save the lives of veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.”

But Shulkin has remained mum on the issue.

“I’m assuming that [Attorney General] Sessions has created an atmosphere of fear around the word ‘cannabis’ and so nobody’s willing to step out,” said Sisley. “The FDA deserves major commendation because they at least are responsive.”

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Why Are So Many Veterans on Death Row?

By Jeffrey Toobin

A new study shows that at least ten per cent of death-row inmates are military veterans.

The death penalty has always provided a window into the darkest corners of American life. Every pathology that infects the nation as a whole—racism, most notably—also affects our decisions about whom to execute. A new report from the Death Penalty Information Center adds a new twist to this venerable pattern.

The subject of the report, just in time for Veterans Day, is the impact of the death penalty on veterans. The author, Richard C. Dieter, the longtime executive director of the invaluable D.P.I.C., estimates that “at least 10% of the current death row—that is, over 300 inmates—are military veterans. Many others have already been executed.” In a nation where roughly seven per cent of the population have served in the military, this number alone indicates disproportionate representation. But in a nation where military service has traditionally been seen as a route into the middle class—and where being a vet has been seen as more of a benefit than a burden—the military numbers are especially disturbing.

Why are so many veterans on death row? Dieter asserts that many veterans “have experienced trauma that few others in society have ever encountered—trauma that may have played a role in their committing serious crimes.” Although this is hardly the case with every veteran, or even the overwhelming majority of them, Dieter goes on to relate several harrowing stories that follow this model. Because of such traumas, many veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, for which they have too often received poor treatment, or none at all.

Veterans who kill are not, by and large, hit men or members of organized crime or gangs. They very often lash out at those around them. Dieter notes that a third of the homicide victims killed by veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan were family members or girlfriends. Another quarter were fellow service members. This record suggests that, if these veterans had received adequate mental-health care, at least some of them and their victims might have had a different fate.

But it’s possible to see, in the D.P.I.C. study, an echo of another recent high-profile study. Anne Case and Angus Deaton, of Princeton, found that the death rates for middle-aged white men have increased significantly in the past decade or so. This was largely due, according to the authors, to “increasing death rates from drug and alcohol poisonings, suicide, and chronic liver diseases and cirrhosis.” The Princeton study fits into a larger pattern in American life, which is the declining health and fortunes of poorly educated American whites.

That cohort has gravitated to military service for generations. And while, again, most veterans never commit any crime, much less crimes that carry the death penalty, the sour legacies of our most recent wars certainly play into the despair of many veterans. Earlier generations of veterans came home from war to ticker-tape parades, a generous G.I. Bill, and a growing economy that offered them a chance at upward mobility. Younger veterans returned to P.T.S.D., a relatively stagnant economy, especially in rural and semi-rural areas, and an epidemic of drug abuse. And they came home to a society where widening income inequality suggested the futility of their engagement with the contemporary world.

In an interview with Vox, Deaton said that the death rate for members of this cohort had increased, in part, because they had “lost the narrative of their lives.” This elegant, almost poetic phrase can be read to include the lost promise of military service—the vanished understanding that veterans earned more than a paycheck, that they also gained a step up in status, both economic and social. The reality has been that many veterans returned to lives that were materially and spiritually worse than the ones they left, and far worse than the ones they expected.

According to the Princeton study, a shocking number of poorly educated whites turned their rage inward, in the form of drug abuse and suicide. But a small handful inflicted their rage on others, and an even smaller number wound up on death row. They are different groups of people, and their individual stories are even more variegated, but it’s possible to see across them the symptoms of a broader anguish.

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