Millions of people in the U.S. have served in the military over the past 20 years, with more than half of post-9/11 veterans serving in combat missions. The effect of the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq on veterans’ health has been much discussed, with depression, PTSD, chronic pain and many more issues significantly affecting vets’ lives during and after service.
Bryan Buckley is a combat veteran who says cannabis was nearly a miracle for his recovery from injuries he sustained while serving. His experience, along with other vets he knew, led him to co-found a nonprofit called Battle Brothers Foundation in 2016 to help ease veterans return to civilian life and to start a cannabis growing operation whose profits fund research to change the military’s ban on marijuana use.
“If you deployed during the global war on terrorism, chances are, if you’re in a unit, half of that unit will be prescribed some sort of opiate upon a return due to different injuries or symptoms that have happened to them. And then about half of them will become addicted,” he says.
“It should be a tool in the toolkit. We should utilize it for its medicinal value.” —Bryan Buckley, Battle Brothers Foundation, on the medical benefits of marijuana
Serving and participating in war has taken a huge toll on members of the military who return and struggle with trauma, stress and difficulty transitioning to civilian life. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, four times as many deaths among members of the military were due to suicide compared to those killed in action. That’s nearly 31,000 active duty personnel and veterans of the post-9/11 wars who have committed suicide.
“That is a crazy stat if you think about it, it’s more dangerous for us to be back here in America than it would be for us to be in Fallujah, Iraq or Afghanistan,” he says, saying vets face a perfect storm of events. “A lot of people are getting posttraumatic stress, they’re prescribed opiates and they start drinking alcohol. They’re living off their disability payments, and they’re losing their sense of purpose. They go down a path of saying what am I doing here and they unfortunately take their own lives.”
He says cannabis isn’t the cure-all to address the complex issues veterans face, but he says it should be available for those who need it. “It should be a tool in the toolkit. We should utilize it for its medicinal value,” he says.
This holistic approach was the genesis for Battle Brothers Foundation, Buckley says, to help meet veterans’ medical needs “so they can go out and do great things, and help them find a job and live that American dream.”
Buckley says Battle Brothers Foundation has focused on three areas to help those transitioning from the military to civilian life, including assisting with disability claims, connecting them with a fellow veteran for support and helping them find a job.
While there were advocacy groups already supporting veterans, Buckley and his co-founders wanted to take a different approach and get into medical research to achieve their ultimate goal of finding a solution to the opioid crisis facing veterans when they return from service.
“We have to get to that point of destigmatizing what cannabis is and proving the medicinal value,” he says.
The stigma goes back to the Nixon administration when marijuana was classified as a Schedule 1 narcotic.
“That means it’s federally illegal and is saying that is highly addictive and has no medical benefit,” he says.
But things are changing, Buckley says, with more states either approving cannabis for medical or recreational use.
“We’re starting to see that there’s a lot of untapped potential,” he says.
Listen: Battle Brothers Foundation Co-Founder Bryan Buckley on finding a solution to the opiate crisis in the veteran community.