Campaigners fighting for subsidised access to medicinal cannabis for military veterans have launched a petition on change.org on behalf of Derek Pyrah, whose second application for help was refused by the DVA last week.

The petition, timed to coincide with Anzac Day, had already reached 2,000 signatories as this story was posted*. It aims to send a message to Canberra using the hashtag #NoMoreZombieVeterans.

It states: “My name is Derek. I served my country in the Iraq War, and it was an honour to do so. But the experience left with me a crippling case of PTSD. For nine years, I was regularly hospitalised due to mental health issues. I was put on a mix of benzodiazepines and anti-psychotics, which did nothing for my PTSD, but turned me into a zombie.

Derek Pyrah: sending a message to Canberra

“I’m not alone. At least 17% of all veterans are living with PTSD. It’s killing too many of us. And the treatment and care we’re being offered by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) are not helping.

“In fact, the drugs currently being provided to Aussie veterans are highly addictive and can lead to suicidal ideation. That’s right: the drugs we give veterans to treat their PTSD could actually lead to them wanting to take their own life. We’re trying to solve one crisis, but we’re just making it worse.

“This is why after nine years of suffering, I turned to medicinal cannabis, at first via the black market and then, finally, legally prescribed. It has turned my whole life around. I don’t need to take the psychiatric drugs that turned me into a zombie. I’m able to manage my PTSD and look forward to life again… but I won’t be able to keep using medicinal cannabis unless the DVA permits veterans to use it to treat PTSD.

“You see, even though medicinal cannabis is legal in Australia, it’s not approved by the DVA for PTSD. That means veterans can’t access it unless they pay for it outright, which would cost me up to A$600 per month. I cannot work due to my war injuries. I was retired 16 years ago because of these injuries. Like many veterans, I am financially reliant on the DVA and literally cannot afford medicinal cannabis

“That’s right: the drugs we give veterans to treat their PTSD could actually lead to them wanting to take their own life.”

Derek PYRAH

“But the DVA is basically making it impossible to treat veteran PTSD with medicinal cannabis. So many ex-service personnel are forced to source cannabis from the black market to ease their suffering, or stay on the pharmaceutical offering and risk turning into another zombie soldier. Or worse.

“There’s more and more evidence emerging that medicinal cannabis is a great option for treating PTSD. If veterans had the choice to use it, we’d be added to that evidence base.

“That’s why I’m calling for a DVA-funded large-scale cannabis trial for veterans with PTSD. I’m almost certain the results would show what we’re seeing in the community: veterans getting their lives back on track and managing their PTSD.”

*UPDATE (Thursday April 29, 10.30am): Derek’s petition has now soared past 13,000 signatories. To sign, click here.

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