The massacre at Ft. Hood two years ago stunned the nation in its cold-blooded calculation. The high body count was just as shocking as the fact soldiers were killed not in combat, but on the grounds of a military installation. Before the slain soldiers were buried, many in the media speculated on a link between combat stress and the shooting, the correlation being that war trauma had driven a soldier to commit those crimes.

When news reports finally explained that Nidal Hasan hadn’t deployed during his Army career, the narrative shifted to secondary PTSD. The thought was that his work as a psychiatrist could have caused it. The reality, however, was that Hasan’s personal beliefs about the United States and the military were among the chief motivations behind the killings. Taken together, the prevailing narrative from those early reports—intentional or not—was this: Post-traumatic stress is a strong factor in violent crimes, and anyone who has deployed to a combat zone is capable of the same.

That narrative—fairly common since John Rambo hit movie screens in 1982—bubbled to the surface once again with the killing of Park Ranger Margaret Anderson on January 1st by Benjamin Colton Barnes, a 24 year-old Iraq Veteran. Within hours of the Rainier shooting, journalists and writers clamored to mention Barnes’ war record, combat stress, and even his duty station in a dizzying effort to find a connection:

Ex-soldier in Mount Rainier killing stationed at deeply troubled base

Mt. Rainier killing sparks concern for war veterans

PTSD Help Available for Local War Vets: Park Ranger Slaying Suggests Link to War Stress

Washington’s Mount Rainier Gunman Illustrates Problem of PTSD Among Our Veterans

The Killing of a Park Ranger on Mount Rainer Reminds Us to Help Returning Soldiers

The problem? It wasn’t true.

As more information became available on Barnes, it grew clear that his troubles had little to do with his service in Iraq or his assignment at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. According to The Seattle Times, Barnes was apparently disturbed before he entered the Army—having been expelled from school as a teenager. Additionally, military records show Barnes served in a headquarters communications job in Iraq. A spokesman at Lewis-McChord told the Times there was no record of Barnes having received a Combat Action Badge, indicating he probably never came under fire in Iraq.*

While violence is undoubtedly a potential consequence of war-related trauma, highly publicized crimes by active duty members and Veterans cast the overwhelming majority of law abiding Vets in a horrifying—and typically unfair—light. As one Army officer pointed out recently, sensational stories devoid of context (like those about Barnes) inhibit the ability for people to assess likelihood and frequency in a given population. He cites the availability heuristic, which says people “predict the frequency of an event, or a proportion within a population, based on how easily an example can be brought to mind.”

When I asked her today, VA clinical psychologist Dr. Sonja Batten said that “despite this image in pop culture of the dangerous, unstable Veteran, there is no direct, causal link between combat-related PTSD and the type of violence shown at Mt. Rainier. Although PTSD is associated with increased anger and irritability in some individuals—whether civilians or Veterans—this sort of negative portrayal of Veterans is unfair and does a disservice to those individuals who have served our country. We work every day in VA to dispel these negative and inaccurate stereotypes.”

In other words, the misguided and incorrect correlation between military service and violent crimes like murder can lead to damaging stereotypes that can inhibit the success of Vets once they leave the military. The Texas Veterans Commission says some employers have reservations about hiring Veterans because they may show signs of post-traumatic signs in the workplace. Hiring managers may think they’re getting a Travis Bickle instead of a “Sully” Sullenberger.

In an MSNBC article about the Mt. Rainier shooting, reporter Alex Johnson connected Barnes to the “deeply troubled base” of Joint Base Lewis-McChord. While he later walked the piece back, his original reporting joined the media-constructed narrative that JBLM is in crisis without offering a valid explanation why. There were no mentions of inadequate mental health services or of a distinct culture of the base that would indicate a trend of violence—only some data showing that violent incidents happen there and in the surrounding communities.

But Johnson made no mention that those who murder are overwhelmingly men between 15-30 years old, and that men make up 92 percent of the U.S. Veteran population. If you accept that folks in the military represent a cross section of society, it will always attract the best and the worst our nation has to offer, from Sal Giunta to Benjamin Barnes.

That simple reality didn’t jive with Johnson, whose angle wasn’t helped by the fact that, despite problems with violence around the base, Veterans in general are incarcerated at half the rate of non-Vets.

I’m a former infantryman who saw combat in Iraq. I was based at JBLM my entire Army enlistment. And I know dozens of those just like me—representing a larger sample than that from which Johnson and his cohorts seemed to draw. All of us are men and most of us are between 25 and 35 years old, like Barnes. And many of us dealt with the residual effects of combat trauma, like hyper-vigilance, an inconveniently short temper, and substance abuse. As far as I know, none are guilty of murder or any violent crimes. Unless evil spirits inhabit the base, I see no connection between that facility and the murderous tendency of one of its former dwellers.

To his credit, Johnson published an update with a warning from Brandon Friedman, my boss and fellow combat Veteran. Friedman cautioned against linking post-traumatic stress to Barnes’ behavior before facts were established, adding that “having PTSD doesn’t signify a propensity to murder Americans.”

We must confront the serious issues of mental health that affect those who served. Post-traumatic stress is one of the most common subjects on this blog—and one of the most vital aspects of VA’s presence online has been connecting Veterans in crisis with support services. At the same time, Veterans, the public, and the media must do two things.

First, we must step out of the feedback loop that both feeds and informs the stereotype of the broken, mentally unstable Vet. The damaging caricature proved to be difficult for Vietnam Vets to overcome. And with a new generation coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan, history will repeat itself until we take a moment and realize that faulty assumptions are dangerous and that anecdotal, sensationalist conclusions are designed to help sell newspapers and generate hits rather than responsibly inform.

Second, we must overcome the availability heuristic by keeping perspective on the prevalence of post-traumatic stress and, more importantly, violence committed by those who experience it. A 2008 RAND study estimated that 18.5 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans have symptoms of post-traumatic stress or major depression. But the vast majority of folks with post-traumatic stress recover successfully with support from family, friends, community, and effective treatment. PTSD and other mental health issues don’t just lead to challenges, but also to post-traumatic growth for many people. And that’s a story that needs to be told more often.

The rush to connect Barnes’ wartime service to his horrific crime makes for good drama but bad journalism. There are serious mental health consequences that stem from serving in the line of fire, but we do a disservice to those who suffer from those problems—as well as those who do not. Our communities need the experience and skills Veterans bring now more than ever before. But before that happens, we must chase away the lurid cloud of stereotypes and conjecture that hang over Veterans as they try to find their way after war.

If you feel you might be struggling with post-traumatic stress, visit our PTSD resource directory for information on symptoms, treatments, issues specific to female Veterans, and more. For immediate help, call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255. It’s open day and night, along with our online chat. If you prefer text messaging, send a message to 838255.

*Update – 1/9/2012: We’ve received some feedback on this. Some folks took it to mean that a Veteran can’t have post-traumatic stress unless they were in direct combat. Of course, that isn’t the case. A surgeon inside the wire who deals with horrible injuries or a mechanic who withstands daily mortar strikes can be just as susceptible as any infantryman. A recruit could even be subject to PTSD in the event of military sexual trauma. We don’t believe PTSD is an injury that only occurs in combat, but we could’ve explained that a bit better.

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Published on Jan. 6, 2012

Estimated reading time is 7.5 min.

Views to date: 397


  1. Precle March 14, 2012 at 7:48 am

    Many years ago I worked with a guy in the Nat Guard who did 3 tours in Nam with the USMC. He acted “normal” and was always rock solid. One time I asked him why some Nam vest seemed kind of messed up. He said he thought that some of them had mental problems before they went.

    I was a cop for over 25 years by the time I deployed to Iraq. For the most part, all the troops I worked with were pretty solid. A few had some mental problems before we deployed. (remember I was highly trained to work with mentally ill people as a copper.)
    When we got home, some of those who I noticed were nuts before we went, never did much on their deployment, and never went outside the camps, came home ever more screwed up.

    I’d suggest the military do more mental screening before deploying somebody…or even before letting them enlist.

  2. MSgt USMC (Ret) January 30, 2012 at 6:55 pm

    Thank you for taking the time to write this article Alex. Confirmation bias from the media and educational institutions will always be a problem, until journalism portrays us in a different light. I retired a few years ago with 21 years of active duty service, and see more than just PTSD as being a major problem with Veterans in society. One of the key factors that is not addressed, is how a Veteran is supposed to adapt and fit into society?

    The military is done with them, and society does not want them. Where do they fit in? I not only do I speak from experience, I live it everyday. Grant it, many have family and other support systems available to aid them, but many do not have a family, a spouse, or the leadership to be there for them. Key word; leadership. Yes there is the V.A., but when it takes over 3 months to get an appointment, who helps them then? When many people object to the country’s foreign policies, who do they target? The military service member or the Veteran.

    Why? It is easier for people to cast a negative view on us than a positive one. People watch CNN or a Hollywood movie about the military, and now they think they are experts on those Veterans, especially educators, whom many simply switch sides of the desk. The media picks and chooses what they want to print or write about. In the end, it is the Veteran who gets short changed by society and the media. Even text books offer a gloom perspective of the service member; lumped into an event of war, shadowing our history from the perspective of the publisher.

  3. Michael H Ballard January 25, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    Very good to clarify.
    It is also vital we start to train all those exposed to secondary trauma (care givers, support staff, spouses, youth and adult children) key life skills that have been shown to assist them learn how to more safely deal with it.

  4. Claudette Cohen January 20, 2012 at 7:36 pm

    “PTSD and other mental health issues don’t just lead to challenges, but also to post-traumatic growth for many people. And that’s a story that needs to be told more often.” –Alex Horton

    That is a GREAT idea. I am extremely interested in hearing those stories and helping to put them out there. If anyone has a story on post-traumatic growth, please contact me. I think these stories could help save lives.

  5. Courtney Armstrong January 11, 2012 at 3:12 pm

    Well written article and something the world needs to realize! What the media should be reporting is that most Vets have an extraordinary respect for human life that goes beyond what many of us could imagine. That respect for life seems to be even STRONGER after serving in combat, from what I’ve observed. From my own work with these honorable men and women, I believe Veterans, more than any other group, can teach us much about the value of life and how to put what the greater good above our own individual wants or needs. Thank you Alex such an insightful article and thanks to all our men and women who are serving and have served.

  6. Tara S. Dickherber, LPC January 11, 2012 at 10:51 am

    Thank you for this amazing post. As the Executive Director of the Institute for Survivors of Sexual Violence™, a not for profit organization that provides training in cutting edge trauma treatment as well such treatment for those who can not otherwise afford it. Regularly our Certified Practitioners are blessed to work with Veterans of our armed services and we want to get the word out that Vets have many talents and gifts to share! I have shared this on our Facebook page and again Thank You for this great post!

  7. Scott January 10, 2012 at 11:36 pm

    I’m glad to see your artical. Those of us who served in Vietnam, for years after the fighting stopped were seeing and hearing the midea use the term “He was a Vietnam veteran” when anything bad happened. Finely, after a time this form of identifing some one who was in the news was stopped. It did a lot of harm while it went on, I think more than anyone really understood. It made us look like anyone who served in Vietnam as someone who needed to be watched. It even got to the point that when filling out an applacation for work if it asked if your a veteran you put down no. As I said these problems went away only after years of showing people that if you served in Vietnam you were didn’t pose as a problem. Now I read and hear that this type of reporting the news is making a come back. I do hope your artical will help to put this type of news reporting back to an end. PTSD dosen’t need to rase it’s ugly haed again.

  8. Nick January 10, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    I too am a Veteran Infantryman who was stationed my entire enlistment at Fort Lewis (JBLM) I understand completely how Mr. Horton felt and went threw. Media outplays PTSD like we are all about snapping and killing people. Its a struggle everyday to fight off the effects of post traumatic stress, but when others don’t understand and take things out of context, the mental strain simply escalates do to the torment and misunderstanding. This disease it treatable. people just need to understand and not be so quick to judge.

  9. The Pen and The Sword January 9, 2012 at 8:01 am

    Wonderful article and thoughtful comments. For all the buzz about PTSD, the study of it is still in its infancy. After Ft. Hood, everyone talked about possible PTSD in the shooter right away, yet it was four days later before some of the survivors were offered counseling (In spite of the fact that some asked for it). The pressure on leaders to rapidly deploy their unit strength is still great enough to overcome soldier welfare – having a bunch of soldiers enter counseling for a traumatic event would have held up unit movements while replacements were found!

    Army leaders still don’t know how to recognize it, and even fewer know how to effectively deal with it. Those leaders that can’t get with the program should be forced to step aside.

    I also resent the assertion that if a soldier doesn’t have a CAB, they didn’t see anything traumatic. Since they stopped awarding those if the vehicle in front of you got blown up, or you were more than 31 meters away from the mortar, it’s not an accurate indicator. Ask all the medical personnel that had to deal with putting the pieces back together what they saw.

  10. Leanne January 9, 2012 at 1:43 am

    I concur that while most people who deploy do not come back with PTSD, examination of adverse childhood experiences and/or psych disorders is important b/c they may increase the likelihood of exhibiting visible behaviors or increasing the magnitude of PTSD symptoms. I take issue with your comment that seems to suggest if the CAB has not been awarded, a PTSD diagnosis is not plausible. Deployment stressors may be related to a number of factors not just being in the line of fire and I would caution people not to believe that assignment to a HQ company in a combat zone is a cake walk. It’s not. And people can suffer PTSD just as the 11B at the COP’s. Nobody knows the intimate details of this man’s life. He did a terrible thing, no doubt. But let’s refrain from judging his life experiences, because his deployment may have been a factor. I am convinced that we have yet to see the final second and third order effects of this war on us, our children, and our nation.

  11. Heather January 9, 2012 at 1:23 am

    We have to bring PTSD and TBI out of the darkness and into the light. PTSD is not a “mental disorder” that should be stigmatized and associated with violence and acting out. We must have compassion for those that are returning from combat, in addition to others who have experienced unwanted domestic horrors at the hands of others. Veterans and others with PTS (I prefer to drop the “d” for disorder) need the love, empathy and embrace of others, not to be shunned by their community as a result of misinformation. With the number of people that face these issues every day, we must find a way to help and raise awareness. I just wish I knew what I could do…

  12. Andrew January 8, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    Great write up. I shared it with my cadets as a way to highlight the disparity between reality and what the civilian populace and media will present as reality. People tend to want the facts to support their world view and when the fact do not do so they will do what they can to find something, factual or not, to support it.

  13. Philip Grey January 8, 2012 at 4:01 pm

    Nice job. This should get much wider dissemination. And I remember well reading the “secondary PTSD” excuse for Nidal Hassan. I almost lost a laptop for the almost irresistible urge to pitch it out a window on that one.

  14. texasmorrell January 8, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    I knew it! When I heard on the news that this guy was an Iraq vet and that the news kept saying that over and over again, I turned to my wife and said “That is total BS!, I bet that guy never even saw combat!” I was correct. That he was a vet was not important, that he was nuts and a loser was important. When I saw the photos of him I knew exactly what kind of guy he was. The Army did not turn him into what he became. He joined the Army because he was drawn to guns and violence. You don’t need to be a psychiatrist to know that someone who poses shirtless, covered in tattoos and holding multiple weapons in an immature and intellectually lacking effort to show off, has got serious problems. The truth is that some small portion of society loves violence and they are drawn to it and thus an abnormally large percentage of these people wind up in the military because of it. As a result all vets are branded as violent. Wake up America and stop drinking the media Kool-Aid! Get the facts before you judge.

  15. Dale Kissinger January 8, 2012 at 3:51 pm

    Thank you for this post! I had a very similar reaction to the way these “news” stories were presented. I posted a link to your blog on Facebook:

    Again, thank you!

    Dale A Kissinger, Colonel (Ret) USAF

  16. Stephen Jacura January 8, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    Thank you for the insightful article.

    I used to contribute regularly to the local media here in BC via editorial pages, but once they learned that I was a veteran US Marine, my opinions were no longer considered useful or valid.

  17. Barb January 8, 2012 at 2:42 pm

    We stereotype our veterans, but refuse to call a spade a spade. This asinine Administration still calls the Ft. Hood massacre a work-related crime. Now we have Biden making looney statements like al quada is not our enemy. American-Muslim is an oxymoron, realize the facts, and stop burying your heads in the sand! Islam is our enemy, and the ultimate threat to the entire world! Now we’re going to pander to this extreme cult again, and allow Muslim “garb”(age) to be part of the military uniform. Is this a joke? Because it isn’t funny. Pledge Allegiance, and make 2012 the year of the new PC…Patriotic Correctness!!!!! God Bless the U.S.A., Land of the Free, and Home of the Brave!

    • Heather January 18, 2012 at 1:10 pm

      By the same token that one considers Islam and Muslims to be a cult, Christianity must likewise be considered a cult. Religious beliefs, and paternal names (as mentioned in another comment) are not reasonable tests by which to classify loyalty. I think people from all backgrounds can be loyal to the United States. The U.S.A. will only be the land of the free as we defend rights of all individuals as originally determined at our country’s founding.

  18. SPC Holleran January 8, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    The Military suicide rates increased 150% from 2001 to 2009

    Over 7,000 soldiers at MY instillation are on anti-depressants and anti-psychotics

    20-50% of all service members deployed to Iraq and/or afgan suffer from PTSD

    suicide rates among active duty troops are twice as high as civilians, 6 times as high with soldiers suffering from PTSD

    • Miriam January 11, 2012 at 11:46 pm

      Where are your data? Assertions, such as these, are unacceptable without supporting documentation.

  19. Robert Green January 8, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    Very well written article informing as well as defending us law abiding veterans. As a retired Detroit Police Detective Sergeant and 33 year Naval reservist, both active and reserve, I have witnessed as well have been involved in horrific situations. I have had counselling to deal with the negative effects, yet I never resorted to acts of violence. PTSD is a real psychological problem, but it is being widely abused by those who choose to commit acts of crime and violence.

  20. diana January 8, 2012 at 11:53 am

    i will admit i am not up to date on all the on goings in the military, but i do know the media tends to jump the gun on most interest stories. usually just to get it aired. seems they are more concerned about their rating then getting the whole true story. now i will say this. i have a brother in the military who is currently in afghanistan. i worry not only for is physical wellbeing but his emotional as well. i do however believe the military should do better psychiatric test before entering the military as well as after returning from any battle. but in most cases as far as the media goes. keep them away from the scenes and give them no information until a complete study and investigation is done into any and all incidents that happen with our soldiers. they deal with enough as it is they do not need the media in their faces and making their own assumption as to the ongoings of any unfortunate incidents that take place. i dont know why these young men snapped and did what they is an awful shame but it needs to be looked into before being released to the media. and again i say. these young men take on a huge responsibility for this nation. give them the medical care that should be required before entering the military and is needed when returning from battle. God Bless Our Soldiers

  21. Anonymous January 8, 2012 at 1:57 am

    This article is right on! I too served several tours in Iraq with 3rd Stryker Brigade as an Infantryman.
    I was diagnosed with PTSD according to the Army. I personally don’t believe it’s a problem either. I feel being hyper vigilant, avoiding large crowds, or leery of strangers is a survival instinct.
    A couple years after I left active duty (I’m now in the National Guard) I landed a very good job with the best law enforcement agency in the state. Even though “they” say I still have PTSD I live a very healthy life and continue to serve the community. I do not have urges to beat my wife, dog, or children let alone go on some crazed shooting spree.
    I know people react differently to situations, but I feel too many people use PTSD as a cop-out.

  22. Lisa Stern January 7, 2012 at 10:31 pm

    Alex – another terrific post! I couldn’t agree with Brian more…we definitely need more voices like yours. Thank you for your continued service!

  23. Michael Isam, St. Augustine, FL January 7, 2012 at 6:10 pm

    As a journalist writing and publishing articles about veterans issues, and as a 64-year-old disabled Vietnam veteran, I applaud you on your article. I have published it in both my forums as well as having added the following to my forum blast.

    Having read this article and checked out the many references, I find I must agree with the author. Responsible journalism as I, and apparently Mr. Horton, know it was seriously lacking in the reporting efforts by many organizations.

    On many occasions, I am asked why I did not run or print a particular story, and I answer in one word: ETHICS.

    Having just graduated from Flagler College with my B.A. degree in Communication and an emphasis in journalism being a part of the degree, I had it drummed into my brain every day about ethics, ethics, ethics.

    Mr. Rob Armstrong, a long time, and an award-winning journalist, would hand me my head in a thimble for failing to follow ethics and then flunk me from the course. Dr. Tracy Halcomb, the director of the department would flunk you the moment the breech of ethics was discovered and your future not only as a communication department student, but also as a student of Flagler College, was in serious jeopardy.

    I will NOT print a story where I have not been able to check facts diligently, no matter how hot the topic. I will NOT print a story that reflects only one side. I have to perform due diligence and present FACTS for all sides fairly.
    I will NOT print a story where I know the facts presented to be untrue.

    At one time I was the person being burned at the stake on the front page of a paper and I was not even asked about my side of the story until after the story had been printed. By then the damage was done and anything reported was inconsequential.

    I hate to say that, in this day and age, many stories must be read with a pound of salt.

  24. David Ballard January 7, 2012 at 5:07 pm

    The need for the average educated person to catagorize and fit things into their sense of belonging to what they see as acceptable society as long as they don’t get caught themselves. We all have a dark side and will place forward a face we want others to see and hide the rest. Very few people are as we think they want us to know. anywhere from road rage to murder, we hide from others around us. It doesn’t matter if they’re down, out and desperate, a doctor, lawyer, police, whatever, we will do anything if we don’t get caught in the act and be punished by incarceration or media. There are some truely good people in the world, but they don’t all PTSD, a poor education, low pay, ect, too much overall education in society today to ignore this fact. We must get over ourselves. The media brands people, good or bad, normally bad and that is an injustice to us all.

  25. AnneN January 7, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    middle of winter and I was driving 160 miles a day round trip to work on this issue during that legislative session. Our home was located in an isolated rural county. A few nights later when I pulled into the yard and turned into the carport my headlights shown on a gift of half a deer, cleaned and gutted. It was much appreciated! A few nights after that when I came home there was a cord of firewood. I will never know who it was, but I will always know these were gifts from vets, showing their appreciation.

  26. AnneN January 7, 2012 at 12:20 pm

    Oh my, I have so many thoughts and a few experiences to put into this discussion. My husband and I were very active in trying to get the 1988 Veterans Employment Act passed. At one time during that effort (1987) I testified before a state legislature committee regarding the refusal of universities to put qualified vets into tenure track teaching positions. At that time the leadership of the women’s movement were actively seeking to eradicate all veterans preferences from hiring in any position that was connected to the Federal Government. My husband had his teaching career on track, but we still chose to take the risk and try defend the vets. We have paid for that moral decision ever since and have no regrets.

    What first comes to mind in reading this article is a vision of events around that testimony. After I made my presentation to the committee a young man (21 years) stepped up to the mike in some kind of borrowed suit that hung on his body. His face was covered in pimples. He had been sent by the local University (union) to testify against the vets his comments and agitated voice made one simple claim: “all of these guys come home from Nam as drug addicts. We can’t let any of them into the classroom because we never know when they will kill someone.” He was asked if he had ever been in the military and his reply (can’t remember exact quote) was a simple minded statement of the politically correct opinion something to the effect that he was too smart to ever go into the military. I was stunned as was everybody on that committee that his was the only representation the university was going to put forward. There is a good picture that follows the first memory: After the committee was adjourned and we were all leaving the hearing room, I was walking down the hall to meet my teen age daughter for lunch. In the distance I saw her walking toward me. Suddenly her smiling face changed and she yelled at me “m o t h e r!”. I felt a hand on my shoulder and this pimple faced kid was behind me trying to spin me around. In a flash of time two older guys (my age late 30’s) came up alongside of him, one on each side. They picked him up by the elbows and walked him out the door. I recognized them. They were among the many nicely dressed, well spoken Nam vets who had also come to the hearings. Later that week I would feel that care again from different vets–vets I don’t think I ever met.

    Because of our position on this issue my husband had to go out of state to find work. I was living alone at home when the hearings were being held. It was the…

  27. Ben King January 7, 2012 at 9:48 am

    Really enjoyed this post. There is a propensity for the media to use anything…..even veterans as a means to ‘sell’ a story. Thankfully there is such a great network of bloggers, battle buddies, tweets and post that are truely meant to be helpful and not just self serving.

    HOOAH, Alex.

  28. VA PTSD Counselor January 7, 2012 at 1:13 am

    As a mental health professional and a combat veteran with PTSD I must say good job with the post. I have worked for years with trauma victims both militay and non military and the ones who have the most problems have trauma before entering the military, index trauma. A lot of the times this happens at a young age and they have been able to stuff this trauma and live a “normal” life until confronted with another event. At this point the index trauma come back and they think it is caused by the military incident. This is why it is so important to adress trauma with a professional to work through it. People who have the actions discribed in the story are not the norm. This is just a few that regrettable get the spotlight. Why can’t the media have stories about the veteran who return and excell in life like many of them I work with?? I have had many military members both active and veteran complete therapy and go on to be loving spouces, parents and successful. Let look at them and thank them for stepping up, getting help, and defending our freedom. My heart goes out to the families of tragedies such as this and may God bless all involved both the victem and the other affected.

  29. Carla Felsted January 6, 2012 at 10:44 pm

    Beyond “troubled” vets and those with visible wounds and loss of limbs, we need more stories about the many vets who successfully adapt to civilian life. They have much to offer in educational and work settings. Military service and combat experience bring maturity and focus to many young men and women. Veterans are individuals and also products of their genetic make-up, upbringing and life experiences outside the military.

    Thanks for your consistently fine work as a journalist and being the individual you are.

  30. Bob Eaton January 6, 2012 at 7:17 pm

    For those who think you have to be getting shot at or shooting somebody to have PTSD.
    If you’ve never been woken in the middle of the night to the sounds of the air being shredded from incoming explosions flying metal and debris and have to make your way outside in complete chaos to a bunker and sit there in the pitch black with the rats dogs muck and mud as terrified as the guy trembling next to you waiting for it to stop, only to go through it again the next night, and the night after that and the night after that and……the next day be expected to just carry on like it was just a nightmare you can get a feeling as to what carrying that home with you can be like.
    What’s worse is seeing the aftermath (even the ripped up so-called safe bunkers stuffed full with your dead and wounded friends) of these rockets and mortars that are just lobbed in with no special target in mind and perhaps having to clean up what was left of friends and then feeling everyday like tonight is your turn as the odds are catch up, and you carry that thought everyday for the remainder of your tour. That my friend is fear, and coming home doesn’t make it go away. That’s something an 18 year old mind is not prepared for, nor any age for that matter. I have seen battle hardened grunts break under this kind of war begging to be sent back into the jungle.
    That is just one of the traumas most of us were exposed to.
    There are no bunkers to run to at home. Just the bunker in your head. That my friend is PTSD and it doesn’t make me a deranged killer.
    Bob Eaton
    Nam Vet 1969-70 and 1972.

  31. Brian Hawthorne January 6, 2012 at 5:42 pm

    As always, Alex, thanks for writing these timely and thoughtful pieces. Proud to have you up there representing our generation in the media. We need more strong voices (and pens) like yours.

  32. CI RollerDude January 6, 2012 at 5:35 pm

    Many years ago I worked with a guy in the Nat Guard who did 3 tours in Nam with the USMC. He acted “normal” and was always rock solid. One time I asked him why some Nam vest seemed kind of messed up. He said he thought that some of them had mental problems before they went.

    I was a cop for over 25 years by the time I deployed to Iraq. For the most part, all the troops I worked with were pretty solid. A few had some mental problems before we deployed. (remember I was highly trained to work with mentally ill people as a copper.)
    When we got home, some of those who I noticed were nuts before we went, never did much on their deployment, and never went outside the camps, came home ever more screwed up.

    I’d suggest the military do more mental screening before deploying somebody…or even before letting them enlist.

    • Barb January 8, 2012 at 2:15 pm

      Spot on Rollerdude! The Military needs to stop letting unstable people and those with names like Mohammed enlist from the get-go! End recruitment quotas, STOP dumbing-down the military, and kick political correctness out the door…there is no place for it in our Armed Forces!!!!

  33. MattK January 6, 2012 at 5:30 pm

    I’m not a regular reader, and I don’t have strong opinions or knowledge about veterans issues. What you’re saying seems generally reasonable to me and I provisionally agree. However I came across David Dobbs’ piece on this and left this following comment there. Since info originated here, I thought it would only be fair to post it here as well.: I did notice a potentially misleading statement. From your source for your (David Dobbs but sourced to here) statement that “They are, for instance, incarcerated at half the rate of non-vets, according to Horton.”:

    Among adult males, the incarceration rate of veterans (630 prisoners per 100,000)was less than half that of nonveterans (1,390 prisoners per 100,000). This lower rate is due in part to age differences since older men typically have lower incarceration rates. Most male veterans(65%)were at least 55 years old in 2004, compared to 17% of nonveteran men….If veteran men had the same age distribution as nonveteran men, the incarceration rates would be similar. The age-controlled incarceration rate for veteran men(1,253 prisoners per 100,000) would be 10% lower than that of nonveteran men(1,390 per 100,000).

    So really there is no difference on this measure once age is accounted for. If we are discussing the roll of war itself, rather than just being selected for the military or serving in the military, one would think that the relevant comparison would be between non-combat vets and combat vets, prefferably controlling for other factors such as age, rank, etc. Ideally vets would be paired according to their job (e.g. compare infantry who saw combat vs infantry that did not). In the linked piece they note other differences. Besides vets being older, they were much more likely to be white and also better educated. Because of known biases in the American justice system (as well as broader societal factors) this would be expected to bias the results. Weirdly the source has the numbers on which vets actually had combat experience but the report contains no analysis of whether combat experience is actually associated with incarceration. It just reports the raw proportions. There is, however, an analysis of combat experience as it relates to mental health diagnoses. Very strange. end quote

    Anyway, it does not damage the main point that vets are similar to not vets, but I feel like the statement as it stood was misleading.

    • Alex Horton January 6, 2012 at 6:38 pm

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment Matt. There’s a lot to digest with this topic, and a lot of stuff left to say. As for the figure about incarceration, if we’re going to discuss if there is a connection between violent behavior and PTSD as a result of wartime service, I think it’s relevant and not sure if we have to adjust for age. If there are older men in jail, then it is likely because of crimes committed when they were younger–like murder, for example. If the question is “Do Vets commit violent crimes at a higher rate?” then I think older Vets, especially those who might’ve served during Vietnam (because of the large sample pool and higher susceptibility for PTSD than say, 80s peacetime service), a higher age group would be good to look at. Even adjusted for age, my point still gets across: Vets seem to be no more or less suspetible to commit violent crimes than non-Vets.

      In any case, this topic would lost its focus if I had to explain data sets, controlling for X variables, etc, in studies. That’s why it was linked–so readers can draw their own conclusions, like you did. Thanks again for your comment.

  34. Mac January 6, 2012 at 5:12 pm

    More posts like this one please.

  35. Rather not say January 6, 2012 at 4:04 pm

    Thank you for a great article. It is amazing that the main stream media won’t report on the real issue. Although I never have suffered from PTSD, I did suffer a major head injury and had very similar symptoms of those with PTSD. I had major anger issues and was very irritable for no reason. I never got the help I needed because of ATF rules. Also, if a soldier seeks help and sees a psychiatrist, they may have issues down the road with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives getting a firearms license. I recently had to explain why I went to a psychiatrist twice before having my fourth back surgery. They made me get documentation that this was a rule set my the surgical group. Our soldiers are often hunter and active in shooting sports. Our government needs to set new rules on mental health visits so our soldiers feel safe getting the support they need without risking losing their hunting permits. Let’s force or legislatures to change the rules for Vets, so they can get better without repercussions.

    • Rebeca Johnston January 8, 2012 at 4:17 pm

      Excellent point! The same holds true for the medical personnel deployed to combat zones. If they ever seek any therapy to deal with the horror of war, they face the prospect of never being hired because they are viewed as mentally unstable. In reality, this is situational stress from recent trauma, not a mental disorder. Anybody with back/ neck/ head injuries is going to suffer from depression, insomnia, anxiety, etc. because the central nervous system has been affected. This doesn’t make you crazy; it makes you someone in need of medical help to correct the situation, and veterans, of ALL people, should be able to access the best medical care available. Best wishes for a speedy recovery from your back surgery.

  36. defendUSA January 6, 2012 at 3:33 pm

    Alex…another excellent job using your superb writing skills with great objectivity. I know your experiences also help you ton convey the message. A great post!

  37. Jack January 6, 2012 at 2:54 pm

    Thank you so much for this post, Mr. Horton. One of the biggest problems for my readjustment is not the war itself, but the preconceived notion people have about veterans. If it’s not pity or apathy, it’s fear and mistrust. There’s a serious problem with the “Rambo” way the media deals with these stories.

    This (your) paragraph is so dead on:

    “First, we must step out of the feedback loop that both feeds and informs the stereotype of the broken, mentally unstable Vet. The damaging caricature proved to be difficult for Vietnam Vets to overcome. And with a new generation coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan, history will repeat itself until we take a moment and realize that faulty assumptions are dangerous and that anecdotal, sensationalist conclusions are designed to help sell newspapers and generate hits rather than responsibly inform.”

    • Fred January 9, 2012 at 8:25 am

      If the stereotype of the deranged veteran is true the period after the Second World War would have been a domestic bloodbath accompanied by limited productivity.

      There are many people who have some form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I suspect that I have some issues from abuse I received as a child (this was prior to my enlistment) and a really grizzly mining accident accompanied by a series of near misses. Most people who have this are able to function in society.

    • James A. Davis( former Marine) January 15, 2012 at 10:11 am

      Thank you for your article. As a Vietnam Era Veteran (1973-1984) the stereotype placed on Veterans with PTSD had a profound effect on Veterans and their families. I suffer from PTSD not from combat but from a near-death experience while rescuing another Marine and two young children. For years I have kept this fact hidden from family and friends due to the stereo-typing that comes with PTSD. Thankfully I sought help this past September(2011) for my symptoms. I encourage any soilder who have or think they have PTSD to seek help right away. Don’t let stereo-typing prevent you from seeking help. Seeking help is the first step in the treatment process. Go to the infirmary or the nearest VA clinic for assistance and treatment.

  38. Jason Van Steenwyk January 6, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    Excellent post, Alex.

  39. Stephanie Workman January 6, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    Thank you for your clarifying comments, Mr. Horton. It’s becoming increasingly important to continue educating about PTSD…not only what it IS, but also what it IS NOT. We must protect the integrity of our nation’s heroes and their families.

    ~Stephanie Workman
    Social Media Coordinator
    Family Of a Vet, Inc

  40. Stephanie Workman January 6, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    Thank you for your clarifying comments, Mr. Horton. It is becoming increasingly important that we continue to educate about not only what PTSD is…but also what it IS NOT. We must continue to protect the integrity of our nation’s heroes and their families.
    ~Stephanie Workman
    Social Media Coordinator
    Family Of a Vet, Inc

Comments are closed.

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