Jeremy Usher says, “The court systems are very black and white, and PTSD is the definition of gray area. They’re not acknowledging the gray area.”
Jeremy “Doc” Usher, a 31 year old Navy Corpsman vet, was shot in the head in 2003, while on a helicopter that was sent into a “hot zone” in Afghanistan, to rescue wounded Marines. He was struck in the side of the head while they were lifting off, and he was left with severe brain damage that caused memory loss and a stutter. The only thing he remembers about that day was hearing a “loud snap” when he was hit. The Greeley Tribune reports that after being treated in a San Diego hospital for a while, Usher was discharged with nothing more than an “OK, good luck” and sent on his way. He told the Tribune he was suffering from severe paranoia and nightmares, and that “anything that sounded like gunfire or a mortar round” would send him into a panic.
As is so often the case in situations such as this, Usher turned to alcohol to help control the symptoms of his PTSD. Over several years his drinking escalated and he spent time in jail for a DUI, a phone harassment charge for “calling an ex-girlfriend repeatedly,” and a violation of a protection order for drinking. After being released Usher was placed on probation in two separate counties for his second and third DUIs. With the help of the VA Usher was able to begin treatment for his PTSD, and then started the court mandated alcohol treatment classes, which helped him stop drinking. Usher is sober, is succeeding in his counseling both for the PTSD and the alcohol dependency, and he is now in his third year at Aims Community College. He says, “I’m never going to be free of the flashes of the memories; I’m stuck with those for life. What I’m able to do is manage those in an appropriate manner, without just going out and cracking open a bottle.” He has been able to manage his traumatic brain injury and the PTSD by using medical marijuana, but because he is on probation, he is now facing jail time for the one treatment that has actually helped him. Usher was able to get a prescription for Marinol, which is a synthetic form of the active ingredient in marijuana, THC, but Marinol is extremely expensive, running anywhere from $18-20 a pill.
Bob Small, the VA representative at Aims Community College, has been working with Usher since he started taking classes and says that he has seen a “vast improvement” since Usher started using marijuana and Marinol. Small’s concern, which is echoed by Usher’s doctors and counselors, is that if the courts decide to jail Usher for his use of medical marijuana, all of the progress that has been made will be lost. Usher’s treatment providers, including one from the VA, have all written to the probation department and the court addressing thier concerns and explaining that they would like the current treatment plan to continue. The probation department and the courts however have still denied those requests, and Usher is currently facing 29 days in jail for failing dozens of drug tests. His probation officer has requested that the court revoke his probation, and District Attorney Ken Buck said, “Anyone who violates probation by using marijuana has to face consequences. They can’t violate state or federal law, that’s a court ruling.” Buck did say he is “concerned” about Usher being a veteran, and that his office is “working on creating a veterans diversion court,” but until that happens Usher is subject to the same laws as any civilian on probation. He said, “We’re trying to deal with those who have served their country and who have come back with injuries in a special way.”
Usher however, says he feels there is a lack of understanding in justice system concerning the “seriousness and scope” of PTSD. He explains that along with their unwillingness to allow vets suffering from PTSD to use medical marijuana, other standard procedures, such as a probation officer “knocking on his door unexpectedly for a home visit,” can trigger flashbacks and panic attacks. He has made his concerns clear to the probation department, and has asked for probation officers to call when they arrive before knocking, but he has been told they will not give him any warning.
Although he is facing jail time, and the uncertanty that goes along with what may happen if he is not allowed to treat his PTSD with medical marijuana, Usher says the most important thing to him is raising awareness about the problems facing vets who return home from war with PTSD. He says even if the court system doesn’t change its policies in time to help him, his hope is that “officials will find a way in the future to help veterans who get tangled in the legal system. I want to raise enough awareness so that this doesn’t happen to guys coming out of there.”