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Marine Combat Vet Discusses Iraq, PTSD and Medical MarijuanaSalem-News.com
The courage of an Iraq War veteran continues in his honesty about PTSD.
(SALEM, Ore.) - Salem-News.com is a unique organization, as the two primary news reporters; Tim King and Kevin Hays, are both military veterans who became journalists.
Kevin served in Desert Storm, Tim was a marine and recently returned from covering the war in Afghanistan as an embedded reporter. Dr. Phillip is a leading expert on medical marijuana in Oregon and was an Army Combat Infantryman who fought in WWII.
Along with others here, we are a group that undeniably, knows a few things about war and life and death and all of the things that coexist in between those factors.
At the end of the day, we know that our nation and our society itself is not keeping up with the increasing demands and needs of our veterans.
Dr. Leveque believes that if medical marijuana were prescribed to combat veterans with PTSD, that they would lead longer, happier and more productive lives. While some people scoff at the notion, we see large numbers of veterans standing in agreement with Leveque, and states are increasing legalizing marijuana for medical use, they now number 11.
This is a story by a Marine who graciously agreed to share these intimate details about his life because he believes it is important, I couldn't agree more.
By an Iraq Marine Vet
I'm no Vietnam vet, but a vet of operation Iraqi freedom. I turned 18 while in boot camp because I graduated high school at 17. I was discharged early for having "personality disorder" after I went to Iraq.
I was in the Marines, and my MOS was a ground communications electronics technician. A couple months after graduating my training for the job and going to my first unit, I was "volunteered" to join and train with another unit that was leaving soon. The new task I was given was "Mortuary Affairs".
This group was put together with a couple dozen other marines from other sections. Our job was to go to locations where troops had been killed and not able to be retrieved by the group they were out with due to the fact they were under too much danger or whatever the case. I had no clue the effects this would have on me. It was a horrible experience.
It was not like going and picking up a corpse and that's it. For one, you were in a hot zone, where people were just killed, not just by gunfire.
Here are some brief descriptions of the missions I was a part of...
The first one wasn't too bad, the body was actually brought to us at the camp we were at. It was a young male marine. He was supposedly in a hummer going somewhere and might not have been wearing his helmet. He had a silver dollar sized hole in the side of his head.
When we get the bodies back the camp we have to take off all materials on the body, and go through and bag each individual body part. It was more of a surreal experience really, I did not know how I was supposed to feel.
Once our troops invaded Fallujah was when things started to get worse. On another of the missions, a truck carrying fuel was crossing a bridge and was shot with an RPG. The truck went off the bridge and fell, the fire burning most of everything.
When we went out it was usually just a dozen of us with maybe 2 hummers of security if we were lucky. For anyone who doesn't know, most the hummers used were old and poorly maintained/equipped.. almost no armor. So we get there and head down to the bottom where the truck fell and we had to pull out burnt bodies from inside of the cabin.
It sounds bad, but burnt bodies are almost like burnt food... so perhaps it wasn't as bad as the rest. It did not help our appetite when we had to eat in the same building we process the bodies in. Our shop was just a medium sized bunker, no walls or anything so yes we basically ate next to the bodies. It is obvious why some of us didn't eat the meat.
The worst mission I went on was when an army tank was traveling down a road and was blown up from a roadside explosive. The bomb was so powerful, you could not identify ANY part of the tank except for the tracks. It had been tossed a couple hundred feet in different directions.
It took us I think, about 15 hours to do this mission. There was gunfire when we first arrived but nothing more. I think we picked up a couple thousand pieces of flesh that day. Going through each one individually. They would range from small penny sized pieces to legs, torsos, heads, feet, testicles, arms, etc.
There were a few more missions but we get the idea by now I'm sure. I guess it started to become noticeable that I wasn't doing well. I was taking whole boxes of NyQuil tablets and drinking bottles of medicine to get anything I could out of it at night. I smoked probably a pack of cigarettes a day, which is a lot for me because I have never really smoked more than a couple cigs a day if at all.
My officer had me go speak to the chaplain and from there a navy doctor who was a great person to have over there. He pulled strings and had me med-evac'd out of there a few weeks later.
In the meantime I had been moved out of my job until I was able to leave. I was harassed for leaving, superiors thought I was just faking to get out.
I had become highly depressed and my roommates noticed me screaming sometimes in my sleep.
From Iraq I spent a few days at an army hospital in Germany, talking to various doctors and such... going through the process.
I was being given pills for depression and for insomnia. Then I made it back to the US and once at my base I was seen by a psychologist. They actually gave me the option to get of the military, so I did.
I had been told the process takes several months to year until you finally leave. In the meantime I started drinking daily, and stopped taking the pills they gave me because they seemed to numb my mind and I could not stand it because I have always had such a wonderful and creative mind. It made me feel like a zombie, I could not even create artwork which was my biggest hobby.
A month down the road I started having nightmares, very detailed and morbid. A few times I would wake up with tears. I began having suicidal thoughts and crying at least a few times a day. Thank god my best friend was stationed not so far, he saved my life I think.
It was hard for me to wake up because of the medicine I had been taking, that's another reason I stopped it, I was always drained. The first week I was back I never even reported back to my old unit, I didn't know what I was doing.
A week later they send somebody to come get me. There, I was harassed and treated like a piece of s%#t some more by my master sergeant. They had me sit in inventory room all day while I struggled to stay awake. I luckily had a very kind staff sergeant in charge of me at the time. He would let me sleep and go home early.
I admit I was very lucky in getting out, because it only took me about 2 months until I was officially a civilian again. I was going back home. I stayed with my older sister and her boyfriend at first, because I was not too fond of going back to my parents. My depression got worse and I started to drift further from sanity and comfort, people noticed I was a different person.
At this point I started smoking marijuana occasionally. Which was really the only time I felt anything, happy, able to think, speak, talk to people, feel normal.
Eventually I moved back with my parents and that's when things got worse for me. I had some additional problems I know was facing, I needed a job, and had people on my back constantly. I had no access to marijuana during this time.
My insomnia got to its peak to where I could not sleep AT ALL at night. I also began having more suicidal thoughts, nightmares got worse and I had them ANY time I could sleep which was usually from 7:00 AM to 12:00 PM, began having auditory and visual hallucinations everyday, and constant anxiety.
I knew I had PTSD and that the military used "personality disorder" so that they would not take the rap for it.
I finally couldn't take the insomnia anymore and was prescribed Ambien, which actually works extremely well and helped get my body back on schedule, only thing is I had to take it for 3 months and then no more because they said it was addictive.
So it became difficult without it. I did a long process of seeing doctors and filling out paperwork for the VA and was finally officially a disabled vet due to chronic Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, normally referred to as PTSD.
I started to be able to get a hold of marijuana again and when I had it things were more stable. My temper was not out of hand and I could sleep comfortably having less nightmares. At this point I had gone a year or more straight of having nightmares every night.
It has been three years now and I am much better. Time has healed me a little and I smoke marijuana as often as I can. I don't have hallucinations anymore, or rarely any nightmares. I do however still have bad anxiety, temper, and depression problems when I'm not high. Another thing I forgot to mention is that PTSD has basically ruined my memory. Since I first showed symptoms until now, my memory does not work nearly as well as it should.
I still have major problems concentrating and working sometimes too. It makes interviews and other social activities near impossible for me, as I cannot speak or express myself as I used to. I get very nervous and my mind blanks out sometimes. I cannot say if marijuana will help all my problems, but I can say marijuana helps me feel alive.
Being high is the only time I feel good and happy, deep down. I can be around loved ones or any social crowd without tweaking out from anxiety, I can think and operate much more smoothly, I don't have a short temper, and it makes me want to live.
The past couple months have been rough on me and I have been going to the VA hospital here to try and get help. The first 4 times I went, they did the same exact thing which was to ask a series of questions, ask me if I want pills and send me home. I kept telling them I did not want pills because I have seen what they have done to people I know and what they have done to me.
All I wanted was someone to talk to.
After the fourth time of going in there feeling like I wanted to die, they finally got someone for me to talk to. We have just met once so far, but I think it will be good for me.
In the meantime I have not been able to smoke recently because I am trying to find another job, which is not going too well and I only have a couple weeks before my current job ends. I have had a few interviews but blow them miserably because its getting harder and harder for me to go through the whole thing without my nerves choking me to death. Its only been a week or two since I smoked last and my temper and depression are already busting through the door. I worry too easily and stress out to the extreme.
Take what you will from this story, but I know for a fact marijuana has saved my life numerous times.
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