Jose Belen is a U.S. Army Field Artillery combat veteran who was first deployed during the initial invasion of Iraq in the 1st Army Division, 2nd Artillery Battalion. As a lead gunner in the 3rd Field Artillery, his orders were to secure Bagdad. Trained to neutralize potential threats, his first traumatic experience happened 22 minutes into his first mission in Iraq when he was ordered to take out a group of children, an act that forever changed him. Over the following 14 months without any leave, a long series of other traumatic events, including the loss of his best friend who was killed in combat, ultimately resulted in the PTSD he suffers with to this day.
Memories of war have brought him close to suicide on numerous occasions. The opiates and anti-anxiety meds prescribed to him at the V.A. only exacerbated his depression and thoughts of suicide. It wasn’t until he eventually learned about medical cannabis that he was able to come off of the pharmaceutical drugs and become functional again without the daily thoughts of suicide. Inspired by his experiences and a burning desire to help other veterans suffering the way he did, he founded Mission Zero, a Florida-based nonprofit organization dedicated to ending the problem of 22 veteran suicides every day. Mission Zero develops targeted education and advocacy campaigns, spearheads suicide prevention efforts, organizes family support initiatives, helps business owners expand their veterans outreach and hiring programs, and runs veterans coaching programs.
Jose is one of a handful of plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Department of Justice over the unconstitutional classification of cannabis as a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance.
“I fought to defend our inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I’m prepared to stand tall and keep fighting for our rights and our lives in Federal Court,” Jose said in a written statement explaining why he joined the lawsuit. “This is a matter of life and death for so many veterans and Americans and I’m more committed to our mission than ever.”