Memorial Day is always tough for me. I served four years in the Marines, followed by eight years in the North Carolina Army National Guard. This day is not about barbeques and retail sales, but about friends lost, about names, moments, valor and remembrance.

Many years ago, while I was in the Marines, I bought a bottle of wine while on a trip to the Azores. I forgot about it until 2010, when I found it stored away in my parent’s house. I made the decision at that moment that I would only open it after a full year of losing no friends to war or suicide. I still have the bottle.

This past year, Gunnery Sgt. Brendan Johnson was added to the list of fallen friends after he was killed when his KC-130 crashed in Mississippi on July 10, 2017. He was with me those many years ago in the Azores when I bought the wine.

This year, I’ll be leaving the bottle at Brendan’s grave and issuing a challenge to every American: Let’s honor the fallen by saving those living with post-traumatic stress disorder.

I challenge the president to lead the way in showing his love of veterans by creating a White House task force on veteran suicide prevention. One of President Trump’s first executive orders was to direct federal agencies — DHS, DOD, and VA — to explore the issue.

Gunnery Sgt. Brendan Johnson's headstone, adorned with the bottle of wine. (Jon Lubecky)
Gunnery Sgt. Brendan Johnson's headstone, adorned with the bottle of wine. (Jon Lubecky)

This isn’t enough. We need the help of representatives from all branches of government, doctors, psychiatrists and psychotherapists. Veterans, especially those who have survived a suicide attempt, also bring a unique perspective that can help significantly.

I challenge Attorney General Jeff Sessions to finally approve — or deny with just cause — the production of medical marijuana for federal research. This will finally allow DEA- and FDA-approved Phase 3 clinical trials on a drug that 92 percent of veterans support researching, 82 percent support prescribing and 40 percent already use.

Many veterans with PTSD report medical marijuana has been helpful in reducing symptoms, though no official studies have been completed.

There is currently one federally approved Phase 2 clinical trial underway for four different kinds of cannabis in 76 veterans with chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD. Results are expected in the summer of 2019.

We are losing 20 veterans each day to suicide — more than 9,460 since the attorney general took his oath of office. How many more will lose their lives by their own hand while Sessions stonewalls research?

No one can claim to be doing everything possible to prevent veteran suicide while refusing to study cannabis and other promising treatments. Our veterans deserve leadership and action, not silence.

I am alive because I used cannabis to alleviate my PTSD symptoms. I attempted suicided before the first time I used medical marijuana at the age of 33, and I attempted suicide again after I quit using it for a year.

I was also fortunate to have participated in a federally approved study using psychotherapy-assisted MDMA, in which 68 percent of veterans who participated no longer exhibited symptoms of PTSD after just three sessions.

Medical marijuana kept me going, and MDMA-assisted psychotherapy healed me for good.

What we’re doing to treat PTSD isn’t working. Our veterans deserve better.

With so much promise in the two aforementioned experimental treatments alone, I am forced to wonder why Sessions is standing in the way of veterans getting safe and effective treatment?

When this Memorial Day passes, continue to honor those who have died. Take action, make a call or write a letter to your representatives. To the president and attorney general, I ask you to accept the challenge of saving lives. Let’s honor the fallen by saving the living.