Now as we are just a week removed from the Fort Hood shooting, the meaning and idea of PTSD has shifted back into the limelight of mainstream media. I found myself hoping that the alleged shooter was not a service member for fear of the wounds that might be reopened in the wake of this tragedy. Instead, the truth of the matter has shifted back again towards the idiotic and devastating theory that military PTSD and violence go hand and hand. Over the past week, I found myself scouring the Internet overwhelmed by this idea that myself and over 2.3 million American veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are simply ticking time bombs. This is the reason I believe that of the 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans that have PTSD and/or Depression, 50 percent will not seek treatment. The answer is really quite simple. It is the fear of judgment and persecution that may come from the shadow that combat PTSD casts over those who have served, forcing them to bury their pain so far deep within that it eventually becomes too heavy a burden to bear.
With this recent incident on Camp Lejeune, NC, I am concerned that the fear and misunderstanding will only grow. Although currently the incident in question is indicating that it was simply an accident. With these two horrible incidents that have resulted in a senseless loss of life, we now stand on the precipice of inspiring change or continuing to vilify those we do not understand. The first step will be by developing a better understanding of what PTSD and how it affects so many more than my fellow service members and myself. According to the Mayo Clinic, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that is triggered by a terrifying event. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. The National Mental Health Institute states Approximately 7.7 million American adults age 18 and older, or about 3.5 percent of people in this age group in a given year, have PTSD. Some of the causes of this are, death or serious illness of a loved one, war or combat, car accidents and plane crashes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and fires, violent crimes, like a robbery or shooting. PTSD is not isolated to military members alone, rather to anyone who has experienced a traumatic event. Yet, combat PTSD is too often directly tied to acts of violence.
My personal battle with PTSD is trying to make sense of my time in the military and developing a better understanding of all that has come to pass. To me it is dealing with the memories of those that have been lost and trying to build a life after service that is the most meaningful and honoring of their memory. It was my job in the USMC to fight the enemy and in doing so resulted in experiences and memories that I will have until the end of my days. I have tried for too long to make sense of it all and have come to realize at the end of the day war is unjustifiable no matter what side you are on. I have seen what mankind is capable of at its darkest moments and I am grateful for it, because it has also allowed me to experience the greatest side of humanity that is directly related to the bonds my brothers and myself, forged in combat as we fought selflessly alongside one another.
So, as we now try to interpret some meaning in the wake of these tragedies I urge everyone to reconsider the lens through which you view all military members. My hope is that we can use this senseless evil as a platform to inspire change and move towards a better understanding of what we all have experienced and begin to heal together in order to permanently dispel and remove the stigma that has for too long been tied to military service and PTSD. For me it took riding the razor's edge between life and death in order to fully understand what it means to live. Because of it, I truly understand how fragile and precious life is. My PTSD allows me a level of compassion that most will never come close to comprehending, and I am grateful for it and fear for all those who have never had to raise a toast to the ones that were lost. It is because of them that I know now what it means to live.