New Mexico Campaign Gives Vets the "Freedom to Choose"

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July 10, 2013 - By Joshua Espinoza

Last week, in backyards and parks across the country, Americans joined together to celebrate the 4th of July holiday.

Whether it was through the neighborhood BBQs or the public parades, the 4th of July reminds us not only of the birth of our nation but of the shared hopes, dreams and ideals that bind us all together.

In my home state of New Mexico, as well as any other state with a robust military population, Independence Day is a particularly important time to honor the courageous men and women of the armed forces. But this can become a complicated affair, as fireworks--a nearly ubiquitous celebratory practice on the 4th--may produce more terror than awe amongst those combat veterans who have returned home with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

This is of course merely one expression of the complex transition veterans face as they return to civilian life. In recognition of this reality, a group of New Mexicans has launched of the Freedom to Choose Campaign. The statewide campaign invites New Mexicans to stand with veterans and their families to ask state lawmakers, employers, and medical professionals to support veterans in their pursuit of medical marijuana or any other treatment they may require to lead healthy fruitful lives.

The trials and tribulations of military service extend far beyond the battlefield. As service members return home from tours of duty, they are often confronted with an array of social, psychological, and physical challenges.

Nearly 30% of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan report symptoms of PTSD, brain injury and other cognitive disabilities. Left untreated, these medical conditions often contribute to substance misuse, addiction, and homelessness, forcing many veterans into the criminal justice system as they are found guilty of non-violent drug offenses.

Critical to the treatment options of PTSD and many of the conditions that ail our veterans is New Mexico’s Medical Cannabis Program. Today, more than 3,700 New Mexican residents with PTSD are actively enrolled in the program. Most of them are military veterans, patients living with disabilities, and victims of serious trauma and violent crime.

As veterans transition into civilian life, many of them maintain the same desire to serve their country and communities that they had while in the service. Tragically, because of the lingering stigma surrounding medical marijuana, their personal health and their desire to serve the community are too often put at odds.

For veteran and New Mexico resident, Augustine Stanley, his service to the community as a corrections officer at the Metropolitan Detention Center was cut short as he was fired after testing positive for Marijuana that had been prescribed to him by his doctor. Plagued by the daily indescribable stress of PTSD and having exhausted every other treatment option Stanley decided to try medical marijuana. It was only then that Stanley started to experience relief.

Augustine Stanley is not alone in his experience. Many people, including a large number of military veterans, report that medical marijuana works better to treat symptoms they experience from PTSD than opioid narcotics and prescription drugs. To help our veterans establish their place in civilian life and to strengthen our communities the Freedom to Choose Campaign will ensure that veterans, and all New Mexicans, have access to the medicine that works for them without fear of professional or personal persecution.

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