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Veterans drop hundreds of empty pill bottles in front of the White House

Army veteran Perry Parks, of Rockingham, N.C., reaches to lift a symbolic pill bottle that was dumped in front of the White House after a group of veterans and supporters of medical marijuana marched to the Department of Veterans Affairs and the White House. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)
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A couple dozen servicemen and women marched to the White House this Veterans Day and dumped a large box of empty pill containers, calling on the president and other federal officials to make medical marijuana accessible to veterans.

“Here’s what the over-medication of our veterans looks like,” they said as they spilled the canisters onto the floor. “We don’t want it.”

The veterans and protesters — affiliated with various veteran and marijuana advocacy organizations — argued that Veterans Affairs hospitals are over-medicating veterans, prescribing them a large number of psychoactive medications to treat PTSD.  They marched from McPherson Square to the Department of Veterans Affairs headquarters, then to the White House, some smoking joints along the way, which is illegal in D.C.

VA health-care providers can’t talk to their patients about medical marijuana options, even in states where there are legal medical marijuana programs. A bill in Congress, the Veterans Equal Access Amendment, would allow doctors to provide recommendations about participating in such state programs.

“There’s something seriously wrong going on. It’s disgusting,” said Jose Martinez, 27, a triple amputee who stepped on a bomb while serving in Afghanistan in 2012. Martinez, who lives in California and works with the Weed for Warriors Project, said he was prescribed a cocktail of pills and had a debilitating pain pill addiction.

He now uses marijuana and says he no longer takes those prescribed pills.

Organizers said that about 50 people slept in tents in McPherson Square on Monday and Tuesday as part of the rally. The participants outfitted McPherson Square for the rally, selling cannabis products, giving away samples and displaying photographs of veterans using marijuana.

Twenty-two small American flags were planted in the ground at the front of the park, each representing a veteran to illustrate the oft-cited statistic that 22 veterans commit suicide each day. Each flag was adorned at its base with empty pill bottles and glow sticks meant to signify syringes.

A larger flag at half-mast stood at the center of the park mounted to a “liberty pole” — the same pole that local D.C. marijuana activists chained themselves to on the National Mall in April as they decried congressional meddling into D.C.’s local marijuana laws.

[Marijuana and statehood activists are chaining themselves to ‘liberty pole’ on the Mall]

“Here on Veterans Day, we have to acknowledge that this change has to happen,” said Brandon Wyatt, 31, who served in Iraq for two years when he was 18 and later graduated from Howard University law school.

The group is circulating a petition to President Obama and the Senate with hopes of building support for the Veterans Equal Access Amendment.

The Department of Veterans Affairs didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.