The headlines circulating the Internet hours after the tragic Fort Hood shooting were vague, but the implications for Veterans who have been diagnosed, or are seeking treatment, for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are not.
As some major media outlets rushed to find a reason for Wednesday’s mass shooting, they jumped on the fact that the accused gunman was being evaluated for PTSD.
With a few keystrokes, assessing troops for PTSD became a kind of litmus test for future violence. Nothing could be further from the truth, and this isn’t the first time speculation has blurred the line between what PTSD is and its social stigma.
The truth is that research shows most Veterans (and non-Veterans) with PTSD are not violent. In fact, propensity for violence is not even included in the list of “common problems” associated with PTSD that the center provides on its website.
Paula Schnurr, acting executive director of VA’s National Center for PTSD, expressed her concern that equating PTSD with aggressive behavior was presenting a negative image of those affected by PTSD, which perpetuates a stigma that can prevent Servicemembers and Veterans from reaching out to seek help.
“Rambo is not the face of PTSD,” Schnurr told the Desert Sun yesterday. “It’s extremely important that we recognize that the majority of people with PTSD don’t engage in criminal and violent actions. And it’s really important to provide accurate information about what PTSD is and what it isn’t.”
Fighting the “crazy Veteran” narrative is something VA and Veterans advocates have been doing for decades, because it’s damaging to the millions of Americans who have served in the military and now form the backbone of their communities. It can also make those who need to connect with help for PTSD wary of a diagnosis.
Former infantry officer Ben Diaz has seen it first-hand during his time in the Marine Corps.
“What happens is that [Servicemembers] don’t want to get help because they don’t want to get lumped in with what society thinks of Veterans with PTSD,” Diaz said from his home in Texas. “It’s unfortunate that PTSD has become a go-to term for the media when it comes to explaining bad behavior among Veterans. It’s creating a skewed image of how the public perceives those affected by PTSD.”
PTSD has different characteristics for different people, and exposure to combat isn’t the only way a person can become affected by it. It’s a normal reaction to a terrible event. To try to force a “violent Veteran” story – willingly or not — is both irresponsible and counterproductive.
It is important to note that not everyone in the media had it wrong on Wednesday. A quick search of the Veteran issues beat reporters showed a more nuanced approach to the story. We urge others to follow their lead and educate themselves on the issues affecting Veterans today before writing their next headline or tweet.
What gets lost when tragedies like the shooting in Fort Hood occur are the qualities most Veterans possess such as willingness to sacrifice for others, discipline, responsibility and teamwork. It is important to not allow events such as this to paint a negative picture of all Veterans.
Learn more about PTSD and how to get help at www.ptsd.va.gov.