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How America Really Treats Combat Vets: A Marine's Story Part 3 (VIDEO)Tim King Salem-News.com
A Marine Corps Iraq combat vet is placed in a jail "Unfit for insurgent prisoners" for growing marijuana plants that help him deal with PTSD.
(SALEM, Ore.) - In part one of this special three-part series report, we learned that Marine Corps Sergeant Phillip Northcutt of Long Beach, California, began his enlistment in the Marines in 1998 as the platoon "Honorman" or "Guide" - serving with honor during a volunteer one year "recall" tour of duty, and was injured in Iraq. In Part 2 it was revealed that police in Southern California like to arrest Marines, and that they don't know their own legal system.
This is part 3 in a special series on Marine Corps Sergeant Phil Northcutt, whose life went from Marine combat hero in Iraq, to homeless felon in California, simply because he used the only thing that helped him deal with Post traumatic Stress Disorder: legal medical marijuana.
While the DEA remains on point as anti-marijuana crusaders, Southern California law authorities seem to have it in for the Marines, and there are a great many of us who have suffered the wrath for our association with the eagle, globe and anchor in both LA and Orange Counties. It makes little sense, but is still the case. The marijuana element just aggravates an already volatile relationship.
It is all part of the false rhetoric from people who do not support those that fight for our country, and it extends from the ranks of officers on the streets of cities like Long Beach, straight into the court system. The bottom line is that the LA County Jail is not fit for animals. The ACLU knows it, anyone unfortunate enough to ever have to venture inside knows it, and it sure as hell isn't a fit place to put a national hero like Phil Northcutt.
He served a year in combat in Iraq as a volunteer. Northcutt asked to return to the Marines after he was honorably discharged. While he was serving in Iraq, this combat was injured.
A "one year extension" did not end at one year because the military does not like to discharge injured veterans a day before they have to, it reduces their financial liability in many cases, saves the feds a few bucks.
In the end Phil Northcutt's s biggest enemy is ignorance. He was allowed no slack while fighting enemy forces in Iraq as a Sergeant of Marines, but in Long Beach, police officers apparently are not required to know about the laws they enforce. Long Beach PD arrested Phil Northcutt when he had violated no law at all, and they have collectively done their best to ruin his life in the ensuing years and months.
A jail unfit for our nation's enemies... LA County
"I fought it for 18 months. I spent 11 months in jail. The Marine Corps came to me in jail. 'Sign here and we won't prosecute.' What choice did I have? I signed. They gave me a General Discharge, Under Other Than Honorable Conditions."
Even for a battle hardened Marine Corps Sergeant, jail was a nightmare in and of itself. He says he couldn't believe the treatment he witnessed human beings receiving.
He is even hesitant to talk about it for fear of repercussions he would possibly receive if he had to return to the Los Angeles County Jail. Fortunately we have this opportunity to at least document the highly unacceptable conditions there, and if anything ever happens to Phil Northcutt in the LA County Jail we will make it our mission to take those officials to task for the rest of their lives.
"They fed us food not fit for my dog. There was no real medical care. I am scared to detail the abuses I saw because I am on probation and could go back to their custody. I was personally threatened by a sergeant who 'accidentally' made me miss a court date for filling out complaint forms describing the inhumane treatment to American Civilian Prisoners."
Fair treatment for a Marine Corps combat vet? I think not. The atrocities happening daily in California jails are off the radar for the most part, and groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and others like them are some of the only ones who care and are trying to make a difference.
The ACLU made this recent statement in regard to LA County Jail and the myriad problems swirling around its operation:
"Civilian complaints about serious misconduct by L.A. police officers are downplayed by investigators, a recent citywide audit found for the third year in a row. Now the ACLU/SC has told the Police Commission, which oversees the department, that 'three years is enough.' The ACLU/SC called for civilian investigators or civilian supervisors to take over responsibility for investigation of serious complaints from police officers, who currently investigate themselves."
Phil Northcutt's trial lasted several days over a two week period as court dragged on. He says he was moved to holding cell after holding cell.
"They were packed with men. Cells made for 16 men had 50 in them with no water or food. I was shocked. I treated Iraqi detainees better than this and they had killed, or tried to kill, American troops."
He says they kept saying, "Take the deal, then this will all end. You don't want to go to trial. Just take the deal."
As he went through the motions of the California justice system, he says he was subjected to sleep deprivation and persuasion, "just like I had been schooled about in the Marine Corps."
Ongoing PTSD nightmare
Those who know people with PTSD are probably aware that many of these unfortunate sufferers deal with flashbacks and nightmares. Phil Northcutt survived one firefight after another in Iraq, but his psychological trauma is not strictly related to the battlefield.
When he emerged from the nightmare of jail, Phil Northcutt was homeless.
"My girlfriend, and I had a son together while I was incarcerated. Upon my release she returned to California from Oklahoma. We had nowhere to go. We stayed at hotels and on friends floors or couches. We had no money for food and had to borrow from everyone who would talk to us. It was so humiliating. Here my friends had just seen me as a Sergeant of Marines, who some considered a hero. A man who owned his own screenprinting business. My friends and family were so proud of me."
As a homeless, unemployed, convicted felon, Northcutt's own 15-year old daughter won't even speak to him. He says he wanted to just kill himself. "The only thing that kept me from doing it was knowing that no one would look out for my family. How would they eat? Where would they sleep?"
After 2 months on the streets, Phil got a job with a screenprinting company who had previously hired him as a print consultant.
"They knew my situation and hired me anyways. Like many Californians, they support medical marijuana and can't understand why they would mess with someone like me. So now, I work for about 1/3 of what I would usually make."
Now this former Marine can barely pay his bills. He lives with his family in a friend's studio apartment who is out of town. The problems working with the military continue.
"I have to miss work to go to the VA for my medical appointments so I lose money by going to my doctor. Then there's the court appearances and probation. I have to test for drugs even though the only drug I've ever been convicted of anything for is medical cannabis. They tell me at 8pm if I'm testing the next day. I miss work again. My boss is really bummed because I'm never there. I'm bummed because I wouldn't be making enough even if I was there. I missed an appointment this week because I didn't have the bus money."
Drug laws based on bad intelligence
Now the judge in Long Beach might put him back in jail for continuing the one medication that actually helps PTSD combat vets: medical marijuana, a simple natural plant that God put on the earth for some reason.
Dr. Phil Leveque of Molalla, Oregon, a combat vet from WWII who has seen over 4,000 medical marijuana patients with many PTSD sufferers in the mix, says the VA keeps causing PTSD veterans to become addicted to pharmaceutical drugs that are "legal" yet deadly. As Northcutt said, they fill veterans with this legal poison and many veterans advocates say prescribing drugs mindlessly to people who don't need them borders on being criminal.
But somehow, some way, the U.S. government has been able to turn this very simple herb that has literally never killed a single person, and has been used medically for over 4,000 years, into something that place in a category with heroin and meth. Young people laugh at the laws and millions defy the same laws on a daily basis, while hundreds of thousands now smoke it legally for medical use.
And still the federal government refuses to budge, and the victims are good people like Phil Northcutt, former Sergeant of Marines, whom I am very proud to know. Like all former Marines, my belief is that he must continue to march forward, perhaps an attorney who reads this in the Los Angeles/Long Beach area will send us an email and take this case so Phil can get on with his life, that sounds like a good plan.
"I'm just tired. I've been fighting non-stop since 2004. I'm so fatigued I can't stand it anymore. I just want some peace in my life. I just want to know I can take care of my family and that they don't have to worry about where they'll live or will we have money for food."
Stories like Marine Sergeant Phil Northcutt's need to be told, and antiquated laws and jails need to be torn down and rethought and when appropriate, rebuilt. Treating even criminals with decency is our obligation, but subjecting combat veterans to humiliation and needless punishments and brutality that conflict with their doctor's orders is madness.
The growing number of war traumatized combat veterans can only be viewed as an undeniable fact in this country, and the positive interaction between PTSD and medical marijuana is another undeniable fact. We should not make criminals out of good, honorable people who have something to offer the world. Phil Northcutt agrees.
"I never asked for any of this. I was just trying to do the right thing. It makes me wish I had never gone to this bogus war."
Marines are trained to be killers, that is true, and they are the best that have ever existed. But the discipline that is so legendary with respect to the Corps is often overlooked, and that is a mistake. That very discipline can be harnessed in the PTSD process, but only if we can keep the cops and politicians off the backs of these men and give them time to heal. If marijuana helps them, then for God's sake give it to them. We need to those extra steps to take care of these warriors when they return. I don't think it was supposed to go this way for our country, Phil Northcutt's service to his nation should mean more.
This is not the first time Salem-News.com has written about Iraq combat Marines and medical marijuana. You might want to check out this story from June 11th, 2007: Marine Combat Vet Discusses Iraq, PTSD and Medical Marijuana. It is time the anti-marijuana crusaders own up to the fact that they are an enemy of today's PTSD stricken combat vet. Here is video Phil Northcutt shot during a firefight at Ramadi, Iraq called "shootout". There is a small amount of bad language:
In case you missed part one you can read it here: How America Really Treats Combat Vets: A Marine's Story Part 1
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