Roger Martin, a U.S. Army veteran from the Vietnam era and a former police officer, was addicted to OxyContin and Ambien, which he used for years to treat injuries sustained while in military service. Now Martin heads an organization that ships medical cannabis and hemp-based cannabidiol (CBD) products for free to veterans and first responders in all 50 states to help them manage physical and psychological conditions that disproportionately affect them.

As of Veterans Day 2018, HeroGrown, originally founded as Grow for Vets in 2104, has distributed more than $3 million worth of CBD products as part of their CBD AirDrop, a first-of-its-kind program that Martin said, “thankfully has had no legal issues as yet.”

Martin, 66, started giving away medical cannabis to veterans in 2010 in the Lake Tahoe area of California and Nevada shortly after kicking pain pills and overcoming a 20-year struggle with hepatitis C, a condition that affects Vietnam veterans at a higher rate than other vets for reasons that remain unclear, according to research conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

That’s only one of the conditions that continues to disproportionally affect the country’s approximately 22 million veterans.

A new study based on data gathered by the VA and presented at the Psych Congress in Orlando, Florida, on Oct. 28, 2018, analyzed the economic burden of treatment-resistant depression that affects one-third of all U.S. veterans.

While 13 percent of Americans experience depression during their lifetime, the study noted that nearly three times as many U.S. veterans will be affected by the mood disorder.

Additionally, a 2015 report based on the National Vietnam Veterans Longitudinal Study showed that about 271,000 Vietnam veterans, out of 6.8 million, still suffer from full post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“Looking at these statistics, you can understand why veterans desperately need cannabis products,” said Martin, who added that HeroGrown is raising money with a golf tournament on Nov. 12, 2018 at the Las Vegas National Golf Club, and is launching its own brand of cannabis in observance of Veterans Day 2018.

Other veterans organizations that supply free cannabis products to veterans include Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance (SCVA) and Weed for Warriors, both California-based.  

Canna Care Docs, an organization that qualifies patients into medical marijuana programs, is providing cannabis evaluations to veterans at no charge from Nov. 1-12, 2018, at its 26 locations, Stephanie Gluchakie, president of clinical operations, told Marijuana.com.

Veterans cannabis groups seem to agree that education and support is needed, rather than dispensary discounts for veterans.

“The Veterans Day discount thing is always disappointing. How about some education and donated products?” said Eric Goepel, founder and CEO of Veterans Cannabis Coalition.

Goepel’s organization has come up with an elaborate Veterans Day event.
“The
Veterans Day discount thing is always disappointing. How about some education and donated products?” said Eric Goepel, founder and CEO of Veterans Cannabis Coalition.

“We’re holding a Veterans Cannabis Ball in L.A. on Nov. 9 to honor 100 years of women in the Marine Corps and to fundraise for cannabis advocacy,” Goepel told Marijuana.com.

“The ball will be a couple days after the midterms, so if things go as I’m expecting, we’ll also be talking about what we’re planning on doing with legislation next year,” said the seven-year Army veteran who was deployed twice to Iraq and once to the Philippines.

Goepel’s optimism about the Nov. 6, 2018, election may not unfounded, especially if veterans get out and vote.

A survey released around Veterans Day 2017 by the American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans organization, showed there was 92 percent support among veterans for research on medical cannabis and that 83 percent of those polled supported legalizing medical marijuana.

In addition, Missouri’s Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), on Oct. 26, 2018, came out in favor of the state’s Amendment 2 to legalize medical cannabis.

Tom Mundell, former State Commander of Missouri’s VFW, said medical marijuana is a cause dear to the organization’s heart as it aims to help members overcome opioid addiction, drug overdoses, and high suicide rates.

“We have to get control over the boatload of medical issues we are having,” Mundell told the Missouri Times.  

A VA report using 2014 data noted that an average of 20 veterans died by suicide every day, and 69 percent of them taking their own lives by firearm.

A newer VA report showed that suicide rates for veterans between 18 and 34 rose by 11.4 percent in 2016 alone.

The numbers likely are much higher, according to a 2017 Newsweek article by Art Levine and excerpted from his book, “Mental Health Inc: How Corruption, Lax Oversight and Failed Reforms Endanger Our Most Vulnerable Citizens.”

According to Martin, the war hasn’t ended for many veterans as they battle for their health.

“This year alone,” Martin said, “we will lose more American heroes to drug overdose and suicide than those who died as the result of hostile action in every war combined since the end of the Vietnam War. The fact that the DEA is standing in the way of the medical use of cannabis to treat veterans and people in general is, in my opinion, tantamount to murder.”