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Thomas C. Burke Jr.: Medical marijuana helped vet 'start rebuilding what I had lost after fighting f

Thomas C. Burke Jr.: Medical Marijuana Helped Vet 'Start Rebuilding What I Had Lost After Fighting For Our Flag'

by: Thomas C. Burke Jr.

May 29, 2014

On Tuesday I had the opportunity to attend the forum held by Compassionate Care of Connecticut at the Bethel Municipal Center. I have lived in Bethel my whole life, and grew up in that building while my mom taught tap dance classes to senior citizens for the past two decades. My mother co-founded Bethel Youth Lacrosse in that room, and now in this building, in my town I have been given an opportunity I would have never imagined.

I am a combat veteran and former infantry Marine who served in Fallujah, Iraq, and Nawa, Afghanistan. I served with First Battalion Third Marines out of Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. The 18-to-21-year-old men who fought alongside me were the bravest men our generation has to offer.

Now when they are returning home they are being ostracized by a society that deemed their wars unjust. This isolation leads to a disconnect that is exemplified by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms such as severe anxieties and terrible dreams.

While I understand the public might not appreciate the difficulties of PTSD, I will give a few brief examples.

On March 13, 2013 one of my team leaders, CPL Theodore Jones III, was shot and killed by police in Maryville, Tennessee while having a flashback of the Iraqi war. On Oct. 13, 2013 one of the brightest and most positive men I have ever met, CPL Daniel Vilevac, took his own life in the barracks at Quantico. CPL Dane Freedman, another brilliant and energetic young man, took his own life Dec. 13, 2013.

They are just three of the 22 service members who kill themselves every day because of the trauma they live with. This after being sent into two wars over a decade that their country and own politicians do not even believe in. The failure of our country to take care of the heroes of Vietnam are echoing 40 years later.

These men all have something in common -- they were all being treated by the Veterans Administration with SSRIs (Selected Serotonin Receptor Inhibitor) that are not designed for anxiety disorders. The VA treats PTSD with a round of SSRIs and sees how the veteran reacts. This lack of prescription oversight has led to even more suicides than the three personal anecdotes I've presented.

If my brothers had access to medical marijuana like I do in Connecticut, they would still be alive today. I hope and pray that the nation we fought so hard for and so many died for cares enough about us to allow us to get the help we need.

I have shown what can happen when medical marijuana is not utilized, but let me explain how it has benefitted me.

When I returned from war in 2011, I was a shell of myself. I could not leave my house and I was certainly no help to society. In 2012 when Connecticut passed its medical marijuana bill, I was finally able to start rebuilding what I had lost after fighting for our flag.

I enrolled at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield where I had the opportunity of competing on the Division 1 wrestling team and was the lead actor in the production of "Playboy of the Western World." I have spoken at multiple universities on how students and faculty can help facilitate the reintegration of combat veterans with PTSD back into the classroom.

After graduating with a double major in English and Religious Studies, I was accepted into Yale University for graduate work. None of these successes would have come had I not been able to medicate myself to face the world.

The fact that now in the town where I grew up, in the town I chose to fight for as a Marine, I have the opportunity to receive the medication I need to survive is an absolute gift.

I'd like to thank every support for allowing me the ability to live, so I can continue to serve this great nation any way I can.

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