About 200 people gathered outside the state’s Capitol on Friday for the second annual Veteran Suicide Awareness March to bring hope to war veterans and advocate for a bill that would include post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury in the state’s medical cannabis program.
Twenty22Many, which organized the march, is trying to address the overwhelming number of veteran suicides happening around the nation. The group was formed in 2014, when founder Patrick Seifert learned that more than 22 veterans per day were committing suicide.
The group’s mission Friday in Olympia was to advocate to allow war veterans with PTSD and TBI to get off pharmaceutical drugs and on medical marijuana.
Pijper Day, 51, is an Olympia woman who said she attempted suicide while serving in the Army. Day said she attended the march to mingle with veterans and advocate for more education about marijuana.
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“Some veterans pop pills rather than using medical cannabis because they’re worried about having their veterans’ benefits taken away,” Day said. “It’s hard to convince many veterans that marijuana can be a safe remedy.”
Clint Milner, 35, attended the march because he has PTSD and uses medical marijuana to combat the stress he experiences because of his tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“(PTSD) triggers when I’m in big crowds or around fireworks,” Milner said. “Marijuana really calms me down and takes it away.”
Before medical marijuana dispensaries were closed on July 1 in Washington and the medical marijuana market was merged with licensed recreational stores, Milner stockpiled $200 worth of medicinal marijuana.
“Medicinal dispensers really cater to veterans and the exact strain they need to treat PTSD,” Milner said.
“When my supply runs out, I don’t know what I’ll do.”
Army veteran Steve Rollins was at the march to spread awareness about suicide. He has attempted to take his own life twice.
“I almost ended up being one of those twenty-twos,” Rollins said. “I thought the best way to battle my PTSD and flashbacks was to not sleep. So I started medicating with methamphetamine.
“Then I found marijuana and it saved me,” he said.
Before the march, Seifert addressed the crowd sitting on the steps of the Capitol. He said that since 2008, the number of veteran deaths by suicide has nearly matched the total deaths in the Vietnam War.
“I don’t understand how that doesn’t lead every news cycle,” Seifert said.
The march started with a moment of silence at the Vietnam War Memorial, then moved to Sylvester Park where attendees could share their stories with the group.
“The reason for the memorial is because leading those numbers of suicides is the Vietnam-era veteran,” Seifert said. “In Vietnam, (soldiers) would get sent on one or two missions. Nowadays, how many tours have they done? Four or five.
“If the Vietnam veterans are leading those numbers now, we are going to have our hands full when these veterans now are coming home and they have done five or six tours.”