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Day 4 - Final Report - 2013 Florida Veterans Medical Cannabis Whistle-stop TourMichael Krawitz for Salem-News.com
Saving the best for last, Veterans have real impact on Florida VA system! The Veterans Tour approaches the home stretch. Impact of tour is far reaching.
(ORLANDO) - Nice hotel, nice shower, very nice breakfast, we must be getting closer to Niceville! The Veterans tour has chugged through the pan handle of Florida and today would be our final day of visits to VA hospital system facilities.
Heading to the Villages Veterans Outpatient Clinic. The previous night we had discussed strategy and decided that this smaller clinic, connected to the next big hospital on our trek, Malcolm Randall VA MA, Gainesville, would only be an info table stop. Something told me to hold back and not approach the facility. This plan would pay off royally.
A sleepy little place with little traffic however the logistics were excellent, actually more accurately they were too good to be true. As we were about to leave we would come to find out that even this sidewalk that is on the other side of the VA sign and leads to the supermarket next door is also VA property, Who knew? It wasn’t on our satellite map. :-)
The crew assembled for another day of challenges but this day saw a special challenge. Veterans on the tour had a meeting about new revelations about the last day’s parade that had presented issues to be resolved. This journey has set a new tone of discourse between medical marijuana patients and the United States federal government and the Veterans had an extreme concern about a change in the way they understood their involvement in the Veteran’s Day parade. Our initial plan was to cooperate with the VFW and join their float. This would have been pretty cool but it wasn’t going to happen this year. Our leader, Jodi James, informed us that instead we would hand out flyers and there was even an idea of one of the Vets wear skates and handing out flyers. This wasn’t going to happen either.
As we prepared to greet the Vets invited to meet us near The Villages we advised Jodi that no Veterans would be wearing tour shirts or handing out any flyers at the parade and further there weren’t going to be placing any of our banners near the route either. Jodi also drew a hard line which was to strip the main vehicle from the caravan of tour banners and permanently abandon the tour.
The table was extremely successful at the Villages. We didn’t meet many Vets but after awhile we noticed a couple of suits approach us. It was the facility leadership team! Later we noticed the group of federal police lurking about nearby but just out of sight. They came to us!!
Extremely interested, we were able to present the team with our literature and explain how us Vets dream of the VA joining with us in pulling through this mess. It was a very beautiful moment. They really responded well. After the meeting the police discreetly advised us of our logistical error in placing our table on their sidewalk but since it was time to pack up there was no real issue.
The next facility, our last on this trip, would be the most meaningful interaction with VA any of us Vets out working in the field would ever have had. We circled the massive Gainesville VHA facility seeking our predestined perch. As luck would have it we not only grabbed our bit of sidewalk but the two adjacent parking spaces as well creating a good visual for our presentation to the Vets that were sure to come seek us out today. I worked a bit more to get my head right and then finally made the call.
As we had already become accustomed, the reception was more rigid at the bigger facilities. The Chief of Staff’s office was already primed for me and off I was immediately sent to talk to the Leadership Team spokesperson who heads Public Affairs. She was extremely busy but could afford us 5 minutes if we could meet her by the main entrance. No problem! We are there! 10 minutes tops! Where the hell is the “main entrance of this thing?”
Bob Jordan and me, a well oiled team by now, headed out and into the megalithic set of structures. We popped up by the big entrance, where was she? The guards told us of another newer entrance out in front of the Tower. “OK, Where the hell is the Tower?” We finally located our VA contact and she had corralled up a Vet who had looked for us where he would expect the marijuana people to be, in the VA’s face. We were approximately 1/4 mile from their face.
When we met the team of three powerful VA ladies they were immediately disarmed by our presence. After we had talked for a minute we seemed like old friends and when we asked that they join us on our hike back to our info table, way the hell on the other side of the facility, they not only said yes but the Public Affairs officer’s eyes lit up like mine did looking at that shiny red bicycle during my 9th birthday party.. They were genuinely pleased that the marijuana movement was able to show up and simultaneously show respect. Respect VA! You are doing alot of great work and on this Veteran’s Day This Veteran appreciates that. As we started out, a very stern top ranking federal police man motioned to escort and they waved them him off. This time we would meet the reps without escort.
On the long trek across the facility I could make my pitch with time to spare and as we approached the VA property line I identified to the team, my team. There is Army I said, there is Coast Guard, I am Air Force, me too said the VA rep, and he is United States Marines. She broke free of me like a dolphin released from a doctor’s sling towards them as the men snapped to attention in the presence of these beautiful professional VA women.
After about a half of an hour of, first ever, substantive meetings between these Vets and their VA I spoke to public affairs who told us that indeed we had been the subject of intense scrutiny all week long and that they appreciate our tact and our literature had been scanned and redistributed amongst all the leadership teams via email. VISN 8 of the VA is ringing after our tour!
The next and last stops on our journey were to take over and hold the state capitol’s steps for a day, which we did. Our tent and banners and Veteran team looked darn good out there. We met one Vet in particular I would mention. A Vietnam Veteran Submariner with severe disabilities who took the half hour arduous journey from the abandoned capitol back lot to the front steps on his crutches. He spoke of his days engineering on a nuclear submarine. He was one of the smartest and coolest Vets I have ever met. His weed was as good as mine.. [oops did I say that out loud?]
The last day we met with Vets and had a much needed down day in the park over chicken legs and cole slaw. We did a radio show from the park:
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