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The Fort Hood shooting and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder|
On Wednesday there was another shooting by a veteran at Fort Hood.
We are a society in denial. Denial about the horrors of war and its effects on a soldier, who was first a human being. We send our young men and women into a war, and don’t want to acknowledge what we are asking of them. We deny the reality of the horrors they witness or participate in. And then we say when they return, “He was such a good person. I wonder what happened.” The problem is, very few bother to learn the truth.
The media is saying, the shooter “claims” he was dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but had not been diagnosed.” A PERSON IS NOT GOING TO MAKE THIS UP!! They also say, “He didn’t ‘see’ combat in Iraq.” How do they know? Iraq is the first war where medical personnel had to carry weapons. Doctors were armed. It’s disgusting the non-veteran people in the media are now spending time speculating about this soldier’s state of mind, having no clue about what he experienced. All I can really say is – HOW DARE THEY!
I recently went through trauma therapy. The trauma I was treated for was not war related. I’m not a psychologist, but as a result of my experience, I know a lot about this subject. In addition to living with PTSD for decades, I have read everything I could find on the subject to find my own peace. I am also an Army veteran. I have had lengthy discussions with traumatized Vietnam veterans. And I am in the middle of my own claim for military sexual trauma (MST), which is now in its 14th month of processing. I know about trauma, and I know about the military system.
In some ways, trauma is like a burn – it doesn’t matter much how a person is traumatized, the symptoms are similar. As with a burn, there are degrees of trauma. Some people are able to live with the symptoms. Others find the memories so intrusive, they can’t tolerate living their life anymore. So, like a burn, trauma can kill a person. Our minds are powerful, and when they are affected by certain memories, there’s no way of knowing how a person will react. It is not up to any of us to judge another person’s experience. If a person says they feel traumatized, we have no choice but to believe them. This is not the kind of thing a person would make up. They may “appear normal” in everyday situations, but you have no way of knowing how he or she feels when alone with their thoughts – when their life goes quiet and they have nothing else to think about. When the memories return, they may stop a person in their tracks, and send their mind to places they want to forget.
TWENTY TWO veterans are committing suicide every day. This soldier, for whatever reason, took others with him. At first I wrote he “decided” to do this. I doubt he woke up that morning and said, “I think I’ll go massacre a group of people, and then kill myself today.” I think chances are high he finally snapped, trying to live with his memories, and trying to deal with the VA system that apparently is denying he was suffering with PTSD, and can take up to two years or more to process a medical claim. I think we are very lucky others don’t take this route.
PTSD, on its own, does not mean a person will be violent. There is no evidence to suggest acts of violence have a direct connection to all people suffering with this. HOWEVER, if a person is dealing with a severe case of trauma, and they are being ignored, or other things are going on which we may never understand, a person can be driven to violence out of fear and frustration. During a flashback, they may even think they are reliving the traumatic event. In a soldier’s case, this usually involves memories of witnessing, experiencing or participating in, horrific events. Some Vietnam veterans still wake every night with nightmares from re-living their memories. More commit suicide, than commit violent acts such as this.
Obama talks about this being “senseless violence.” What does he think the entire Iraq War was? What does he think we killed a million innocent Iraqis for? What did we get for the 4,500 soldiers who lost their lives there? It seems to me that entire war was senseless. Add Vietnam, Afghanistan, and others to this. We created a LOT of senseless violence in this world. Soldiers who return home bring this violence with them.
This young man, who was seeking help, was damaged, and was not getting the help he needed. That’s all we know. IMHO – this is the only thing anybody should be focused on. We have billions of dollars to teach young people how to hate (at boot camp), but then, when they return home, we have so little to help them love again and be part of society. Or, even worse, they are forced to deal with a non-profit like Wounded Warriors. Why in the world are they forced to deal with a non-profit that is on TV pitching commercials BEGGING FOR MONEY TO HELP WOUNDED SOLDIERS. These commercials show up between commercials for cell phones, dog food, and animal rescue groups. HOW DARE WE, AS A SOCIETY, ACCEPT THIS! No wounded soldier should be subjected to BEGGING.
There is also an issue with soldiers admitting they have PTSD. When they return to the US, all they want to do is go home. They are asked if they have any symptoms. If they say yes, they are held behind for treatment. Many will claim they are ok, just to get home. Many don’t realize they have been damaged, which it’s why it is called “post” traumatic. The symptoms don’t necessarily show up a day or a week or a year later. They show up when they are ready, and there’s nothing the victim can do about it.
Which brings up another point. As a society we don’t believe anybody should be called a “victim.” It is necessary to accept this fact about a soldier (or anybody) with PTSD. When a soldier signs up to defend and protect our freedom, the enlistee is not fully aware of the horrific memories they may return home with. Nobody chooses to experience an event that can bring trauma into their life.
This issue is much bigger than we as a society have acknowledged. For a few days, the Fort Hood shooting will get a lot of press. It will stay in our minds, for a day or two, until the next earthquake, or the next plane crash, or whatever else the media determines is more important than this.
There are many who now believe that trauma is like an “injury,” which can be successfully treated. Based on my personal experience with trauma, and my healing, I believe that. We need to expand the VA system to accommodate all of the soldiers who are suffering with PTSD. They live among us. Their trauma may affect their family, and anybody close to them. Some family members are now getting their own “second-hand” PTSD because of dealing with a wounded soldier in their life. Healing the soldier will bring a healing to our entire society.
As a society, we have a very short attention span, and this is one subject that is too easily forgotten. It is a subject that we need to talk about much more than we do.
Diane Rejman is an Army veteran, and a Lifetime Member of Veterans for Peace.