Wednesday evening as Americans heard of the active-shooter situation on Ft. Hood, military families glued themselves to their televisions, began texting their friends, and relied on Facebook to locate friends and loved ones who might have been in harm’s way. My husband and I were sitting in the lobby of a martial arts studio where our children are learning Hapkido. The moment the story broke on Fox News we looked at each other and asked, “Who do we know at Ft. Hood?” We both began scrolling through our phones, checking in with other military families.
Within an hour, a rumor had travelled through our circle of friends that the suspect was possibly a soldier who was disgruntled about a health care matter. One preliminary report suggested that the suspect might have been a part of a WTU or Warrior Transition Unit- a unit that holds wounded soldiers until they can transition out of the military. Later that evening in the first news briefing on post, Lt. General Mark Milley confirmed that the suspect had been under review for a possible diagnosis of PTSD. At that moment, the entire wounded warrior community collectively winced.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, does not explain or excuse the murder of three soldiers and the injuries of 16 others. The fact that the media is quick to link PTSD with this tragedy shows society’s general lack of understanding about what PTSD truly is. For the 200,000+ Veterans who have been diagnosed with PTSD since 2001, the diagnosis often comes as an embarrassment because of the stigmas that are so often associated with the disorder.
Before I met my husband, I thought that having PTSD meant that you had nightmares and flashbacks about your past and that you were really jumpy, especially around things that might sound like gun fire. While that certainly can be part of it, PTSD is so much more. And so much less. Every case is different as every person who experiences trauma is different and every traumatic experience is different. Associating PTSD with the Ft Hood shooting is as wrong as associating Puerto Ricans with the shooting. Or male soldiers with the shooting. Or people who eat cheese burgers with the shooting. IF the suspect actually did have PTSD, then we as a nation failed to help him get the help that he needed and deserved. If he didn’t have PTSD, then he obviously had other demons to wrestle with. Either way, the 200,000+ Veterans who bravely and selflessly served their country and now carry the invisible wounds of war with them every day do not need to walk in the shadows of this tragic event with the stigmas that have been tied to their disorder. Our soldiers should be proud of their service and hold their heads high.
Please don’t associate PTSD with murder. Don’t associate it with the tragedy that occurred at Ft. Hood. Don’t let the actions of one cloud your opinion of many. Didn’t we learn our lesson after Vietnam? Didn’t we learn the dangers of stereotyping our soldiers? Didn’t we betray our heroes enough then? It’s time for us as a nation to take ownership of our thoughts and our actions towards the ones who protect and preserve our freedom.
What happened at Ft. Hood on Wednesday was absolutely tragic. And as in the case of most tragedies, we want to find someone or something to blame. The shooter is now dead. He won’t stand trial. We can’t ask him about his motives. We may never understand why three innocent lives were ended and so many more were turned upside down. Like everyone else, I was quick to speculate and form my own opinions. I posted on Facebook, “maybe the Army will wake up and realize that there are consequences for the way they disrespect soldiers by jacking around with their medical treatment. Not that I condone a shooting but I understand how escalated those situations can get.” As a member of the wounded warrior community, I wanted the higher-ups to be blamed for this tragedy to make up for the countless lives they will never be held accountable for ruining. As a friend to countless Veterans who would rather go untreated than to continue being disrespected by the people who are supposed to help them, I ache to see them brought to justice. I wonder what it will take before our soldiers are treated with the respect and honor they are due. But just as it’s wrong to blame PTSD for this violent event, it is equally as wrong for me to blame the Army or the health care system. The bottom line is that we all must be accountable for ourselves. We must stand for truth. We must speak out against actions that are unjust. We need to be grateful for the sacrifices of our Veterans, sensitive to their circumstances, and encouraging to their souls. We each must do our part- whether we are a hospital administrator, a congressman, a spouse, a friend, or a guy standing in line next to a Veteran at McDonalds. We have to be responsible. We have to make a difference. We have to care.