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In the aftermath of service, many veterans find themselves waging a silent battle, one that pits them against invisible enemies: PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), anxiety, depression, and a host of neurological issues that conventional medicine struggles to address effectively. What if, instead of a lifetime spent on pharmaceuticals, often with little tangible results, veterans could undergo new treatments like psychedelic-assisted therapy (PAT)? Despite the potential of these therapeutic models, accessing psychedelic-assisted therapy is not easy. Navigating legal, financial, and geographical challenges requires a great deal of time and money. Something that few have.

We recently spoke with Amber Capone, CEO of VETS (Veterans Exploring Treatment Solutions), a non-profit advocacy organization championing the cause of psychedelic therapy for veterans.

“Not all experiences are created equal, but what you do with that opportunity, that window of opportunity following a psychedelic experience, is absolutely critical.”

Veterans Need New Treatments for PTSD

Veterans Need PTSD Treatment

Veterans returning from deployments and service overseas often go from the battlefield to an entirely different type of struggle, one that rages within their minds. This internal battle can be made worse once they exit the military. For many veterans, especially those who have seen combat or been injured in the line of duty, the transition from the structured environment of military life to the civilian world can be disorienting. Often, former service members already grappling with mental health conditions such as PTSD, anxiety, and depression may find their conditions worsened by the sudden change.

Amber sheds light on the challenges combat veterans face through the story of her husband, Marcus, a former Navy SEAL. “As Marcus was exiting service, he was put on his first antidepressant, suffering with a host of challenges, most of them neurological in nature,” she explains. “It was also prompting things like anxiety, depression, isolation, forgetfulness, major headaches, things like that. We weren’t prepared for that. I think we just thought that life as civilians would be normal after 13 years of sustained combat, and it was very difficult to transition back into the civilian world.”

This narrative is not unique to her husband. It is a common thread among many veterans and their family members, who find the conventional routes of treatment—often a combination of antidepressants and talk therapy—insufficient in addressing the complexities of their conditions.

Amber feels that Marcus needed something different than the treatment received from the VA, and at some point, she began to fear she would lose her husband, saying, “he at some point ended up on ten different prescriptions. Of course, he was doing his best to utilize talk therapy through the VA. He had exhausted many options through the military, VA, and Western medicine.”

As time progressed, Amber says she could tell that Marcus was reaching a breaking point, and as he made more unsuccessful attempts, he became more disheartened and began giving up on life. According to Amber, “suicide felt imminent. I knew he was struggling with suicidal thoughts. I’d catch him looking out the window and say, ‘ “Please help me understand what you’re feeling right now.’”

Amber felt like time was running out, and she was desperate.

At that point, a friend had approached her and Marcus about psychedelic therapy in Mexico, which she was initially hesitant to try. However, after reading some research material and seeing how dire her husband’s condition was becoming, she felt she needed to do something, anything, to help, saying, “We were completely uneducated and ignorant to what psychedelics even were. We assumed they were recreational drugs and that the counterculture movement, what you see portrayed by the media, we assumed that to be true. A year had gone by between the time I heard about this and the time that Marcus actually did it. Things were growing dimmer for us throughout that year. He finally agreed to do it, although he thought it would not make a difference, and he was very reluctant.”

As time progressed, Amber says she could tell that Marcus was reaching a breaking point, and as he made more unsuccessful attempts, he became more disheartened and began giving up on life. According to Amber, “suicide felt imminent. I knew he was struggling with suicidal thoughts. I’d catch him looking out the window and say, ‘ “Please help me understand what you’re feeling right now.’”

Things would dramatically improve for Marcus after undergoing PAT at a clinic in Mexico. According to Amber, the results far exceeded anything they thought possible.

“It worked. It was far more efficacious than anything he had tried to date,” she notes. “It was immediate, holistic, profound, and I felt like I got back the guy I had known for 20-plus years. I knew Marcus before he was a SEAL; before 9/11, he had become completely different. He had become a monster. And the first time I saw him following his psychedelic experience with ibogaine, it was like he had returned to the person that I met in 1997. That’s impressive.”

Amber and Marcus

Of course, the Capones aren’t alone in their struggle. Many service members face the inadequacy of traditional treatments, which has led veterans and their families to seek alternatives, with psychedelic medicine emerging as a promising avenue.

The allure of psychedelics lies in their potential to offer profound and holistic healing, addressing the root causes of mental health conditions rather than merely alleviating symptoms. Psychedelic researchers have been actively studying several psychedelics as possible treatment modalities. Two psychedelics, psilocybin and MDMA, already have robust studies and clinical trials supporting their use. While others, such as ibogaine, are rapidly gaining attention in the medical and scientific communities to treat conditions like addiction and traumatic brain injuries (TBI). MDMA is currently undergoing FDA review and may soon be approved to treat PTSD. At the same time, psilocybin (aka magic mushrooms) is undergoing Phase II clinical trials as a treatment for depression and major depression.

(1, 2, 3, 4 5)

Amber’s recount of her husband’s transformation post-psychedelic therapy underscores this potential: “We knew that it was working for more than just Marcus, for more than just our close friends. At this point, over 30 individuals had the same results, and the results were sticking. That was when this grassroots movement more or less became VETS.” Her testimony highlights the transformative power of psychedelic therapy, which has been echoed by numerous veterans who have experienced similar breakthroughs.

“This community aspect is crucial for veterans; it offers them a sense of belonging and understanding that can only be found among those with shared experiences.”

The path to accessing psychedelic therapy is fraught with obstacles. The legal status of most psychedelics in the United States, coupled with the lack of insurance coverage for such treatments, places them out of reach for many veterans. For example, MDMA-assisted therapy is estimated to cost as much as $25,000 in Australia, the only country where it is currently legal, and we can likely expect similar costs in the U.S. If this turns out to be true, it will be unobtainable for many veterans, some of whom already struggle with homelessness and job retention.


This is where an organization like VETS can help. VETS has taken a proactive approach to this issue by facilitating access to vetted treatment centers outside the U.S., where legal barriers are less restrictive and costs are often lower. “We only send veterans to centers that have been vetted by us very early. Most of our grant recipients choose to do ibogaine in Mexico, but we provide funding for six different modalities,” Amber details. However, VETS funding is limited, and they can only accept a relatively small number of applications for assistance each year.

According to Amber, the core of the vets’ mission is providing support, but that can be difficult when funding runs dry. “We started as a check-in, a grant-writing organization where we opened up the aperture for veterans to have these experiences because they’re out of reach financially for many. And so, it comes down to $4,000 to save someone’s life,” says Amber. “It’s pennies, in comparison, but many veterans can’t afford that. So, we started as a subsidy and have grown into a full, robust programmatic support mechanism before and after someone’s experience. However, the unfortunate reality is we have to decline 80 to 90% of the applications we receive. We are a 100% donor-funded operation; if the funds aren’t there, we can’t help.”

Still, this effort to help veterans navigate the legal and financial hurdles surrounding psychedelic medicine is commendable, and VETS has a mission that goes beyond simply sending former service members abroad. They are also actively campaigning to change the way U.S. politicians view psychedelics. To do so, the VETS team has worked with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle in an attempt to loosen restrictions on psychedelics. However, Amber points out that they aren’t looking for “across-the-board legalization.” Instead, VETS is hoping to achieve smaller, more actionable changes, such as having psychedelics like MDMA and psilocybin moved from the Schedule I list of the Controlled Substances Act to Schedule III, which would significantly loosen restrictions around research, which they hope means faster turnaround and approval for new psychedelic therapies.

“The great news is that these therapies are working, and they’re working at rates that far exceed treatments that are currently available to veterans, especially through the VA,” Amber states, underscoring the potential of psychedelic therapies to revolutionize veteran care.

Why Holistic Healing is Critical for Psychedelic Medicine

holistic support system

Beyond the experiences facilitated by psychedelic therapies, VETS recognizes the paramount importance of a holistic support system to ensure the enduring well-being of veterans. This comprehensive approach underscores the VETS’ commitment to being with veterans from the moment they take a psychedelic and throughout the entire healing journey that follows. Amber articulates this commitment, emphasizing the critical nature of support post-therapy: “Not all experiences are created equal, but what you do with that opportunity, that window of opportunity following a psychedelic experience is absolutely critical.” It’s a recognition that the path to healing is ongoing and that the true work often begins after the psychedelic experience has ended.

“Advocacy is the only way to get ahead of this need.”

VETS has meticulously developed a support structure encompassing a range of services designed to aid veterans in integrating their experiences into their daily lives. This includes pre-treatment preparation, where veterans have the knowledge and mindset needed to enter their experiences with intention, and post-treatment integration support, vital for making sense of and applying the insights gained during therapy. “We provide group support, in addition to one-on-one coaching where they can come together again as a community, which is a huge part of the veteran population. It is so important,” Amber explains. “This community aspect is crucial for veterans; it offers them a sense of belonging and understanding that can only be found among those with shared experiences.”

Moreover, VETS extends its support to include the families of veterans, recognizing that healing is a collective endeavor. “We encourage spouses to join. It’s really important for spouses to be part of this process,” Amber notes. This not only aids the veteran in their journey but also fosters a deeper understanding and empathy within their support network, creating a more conducive environment for healing and growth.

Psychedelic Advocacy and the Future of VETS

Psychedelic Advocacy and the Future of VETS

VETS’ mission extends beyond individual healing, venturing into the realms of policy reform and societal acceptance of psychedelic therapies. Amber’s insights reveal a strategic approach to advocacy, one that leverages the powerful narratives of veterans transformed by psychedelic treatments alongside compelling scientific evidence. “We are advocating at the state and federal levels for state and federal dollars to be unlocked to further research specific psychedelic treatments for veterans,” she states, highlighting VETS efforts to catalyze policy change and increase research funding.

This advocacy is crucial, given the current legal and regulatory landscape surrounding psychedelic substances in the United States. These compounds remain classified as Schedule I drugs under the Controlled Substances Act (the most restricted category, defined by the DEA as having “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse”), severely limiting research opportunities and treatment access. VETS’ work in this area is not just about securing the legal status of these therapies but also about ensuring that veterans, who often face complex mental illnesses, are not left behind as the future of psychedelic medicine unfolds.

VETS Psychedelic Advocacy

Moreover, VETS’ advocacy extends to addressing the stigma that still surrounds psychedelic therapy, a barrier that can deter veterans from seeking this form of treatment. By sharing stories of hope and healing, VETS aims to shift public perception and foster a more supportive environment for veterans exploring these therapies. “Advocacy is the only way to get ahead of this need,” Amber remarks, underscoring the urgency of their mission. She hopes the organization’s efforts to educate and inform the public about the realities of psychedelic medicine pave the way for greater acceptance and inspire other stakeholders to join the cause, amplifying the call for change.

As societal attitudes evolve and research continues to uncover the benefits of these treatments, VETS stands ready to lead the charge, ensuring that veterans have access to the therapies they need to heal. VETS imagines a future where service members have access to psychedelic medicine as a life-saving choice, enabling them to live the lives they deserve, free from the heavy burdens they’ve borne for their nation.

This material is not intended as a replacement or substitute for any legal or medical advice. Always consult a medical professional about your health needs. Psychedelics are widely illegal in the United States, and readers should always be informed about local, state, and federal regulations regarding psychedelics or other drugs.

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