Words by Wes O'Donnell
Snap judgments perpetuate the PTSD stigma
Hasty judgments were made by many following last week’s Fort Hood shooting labeling the shooter as suffering from PTSD which, in fact, had not yet been clinically diagnosed. This has not been the first case in which violence was attributed to this disease and surely will not be the last. A huge stigma already exists surrounding the disease PTSD, which often times prevents veterans and soldiers alike from seeking the help they desperately need. These rash diagnoses associated with those performing violent acts before proof is given further deepens the stigma in the public's eye.
Veterans who have actually been diagnosed with PTSD are speaking out in defense of those who suffer the same illness. They have stated that in their experience PTSD does not cause them to want to harm family, friends and innocent people. More often thoughts of harm are towards oneself as opposed to others. These veterans say that if this type of behavior is what PTSD is about than they do not have this disease. They believe there is more to the story than simply suffering from PTSD, possibly something more "psychotic" in nature.
In the case of Sgt. Ivan Lopez, the Fort Hood shooter, he was being treated for depression and anxiety and still in the evaluation stage of determining whether or not he actually had PTSD. His time on deployment in Iraq saw no combat or put him in any traumatic circumstances of record, yet he was claiming he had suffered effects of a traumatic brain injury. There is no documentation to support such injury in his record.
This incident taking place at Fort Hood is extremely rare and should not be the cause of further stigmatizing PTSD. Majority of soldiers and veterans suffering from PTSD function in society without problem or incident. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs approximately 20% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and 30% of Vietnam War veterans will experience posttraumatic stress in some form. One statistic little-known to others is that over three-quarters of those in the military who possess a psychiatric illness had that illness prior to their enlistment.
Ongoing efforts are being made by officials and investigators at Fort Hood to try to better understand how this horrific incident could have been detected, predicted and then prevented. It has once again sparked debate concerning gun-control and mental health assistance programs.
Currently, carrying a weapon either concealed or openly is not permitted on military bases with the exception of the military police. Some officials are pushing for senior leadership to be allowed to carry concealed weapons to promote base defense, however, many officials both military and civilian do not support this effort. Current procedures on all aspects of this case are being reviewed in hopes of finding a better way to prevent future violent incidents.