Cannabis Patient Care - December 2021

Cannabis Patient Care December 2021

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advocate focus 24 cannabis patient care | vol. 2 no. 4 As a veteran, RN, and PTSD survivor, Cherissa Jackson has made it her mission to educate veterans about PTSD and cannabis as a treatment option and to create inclusivity for women veterans. Cannabis, Women Veterans, and VSOs: An Advocate's Journey B Y A L I S S A M A R R A P O D I C HERISSA JACKSON IS the Chief Medical Executive of American Veterans (AMVETS), a veteran's service or- ganization (VSO). She is a registered nurse and a re- tired Air Force nurse. She served in the military for 23.5 years and 14 days; survived four deployments—three to com- bat zones, twice to Iraq, once to Afghanistan—and took care of troops through all the branches of the military. When she re- turned from her last deployment in 2012, a year before she re- tired, she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Ever since, she explained that she has "been on a quest to provide resources, educate the community about PTSD, and change the stigma around it as well as provide resources and treatment options for veterans who are suffering from PTSD." In fact, sharing her personal story and some of the ways she's coped with PTSD is how her cannabis journey started. She even wrote a book, At Peace, Not in Pieces, that is featured in many magazines. "My overall quest as an advocate is to provide as much infor- mation as I can to veterans—whether cannabis is an ideal option or a good fit is not for me to conclude, but it's important to pro- vide options knowing that veterans are suffering every day," she said. "The suicide epidemic is horrific as the numbers increase because of COVID. It's important to let veterans know they can be their own advocate and choose their own treatment." AMVETS To support veterans, Congress chartered six VSOs to be the voice of veterans in the community. AMVETS is one of the largest con- gressionally chartered VSOs and the most inclusive. " You don't have to be a wounded warrior or a disabled or paraly zed veteran—we accept all members through all walks of life in our organization," Jackson explained. "That's what separates us from all the other VSOs: We are the most inclusive." And in all fairness, veterans need as much inclusivity and support as they can get. Many veterans feel rejected, over- looked, and under-appreciated, not to mention the physical ailments, such as chronic pain, and mental illnesses—PTSD, depression, anxiety, suicide—that accompany military service. "Veterans really need our support—not just the words 'thank you for your service' but ask, 'What can I do for you?' That will change how veterans perceive the community's support because we're tired of the words. We want our community to be more supportive in action—that's how veterans will feel supported." AMVETS offers its members support and inclusivity by hav- ing conversations other VSOs are not willing to have—many of those conversations are around cannabis, women veterans, and the LGBTQ+ community. Jackson explained that part of her support was to conduct focus groups so that she could hear di- rectly from veterans what they wanted her to advocate for on their behalf. "It's been a goal of mine as the Chief Medical Executive to bring those conversations to the forefront, and the best way to do that is to be bold about it, and have the conversations that no one wants to have," Jackson said. "I think that's the reason why a lot of members love and choose AMVETS as their VSO." The Healthcare, Evaluation, Advocacy and Legislation (HEAL) Program at AMVETS was created in 2018 to help veterans with questions or issues around those four pillars. HEAL has a team of experienced clinical experts that intervene directly on be- half of service members to help them access health care, in- cluding mental health and specialized services. For example, if they can't get an appointment at the VA, they call HEAL who ad- vocates for them and makes sure VA case managers get veter- ans the care and appointments they need. Women Veterans and ROSE And while HEAL works on behalf of veterans, Jan Brown, AMVETS's first female national commander, has made female veterans her priority, as has Jackson. "Being the only female veteran in a VSO in a chief medical position, it is important for me not to forget about women vet- erans because we are often overlooked, and our issues are lumped in with the same issues men have," Jackson said. This passion for women veterans is how the Respect Our Sheroes Experiences (ROSE) dinner was created. "I got enough funds to pay for Busboys and Poets, a restau- rant local in D.C., and we blocked off half of the restaurant to

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