The New York Times carried a recent report on the prevalence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a contributing factor to crimes committed by veterans of
Of greater concern to me is the failure to capture the effects of PTSD within communities, but let me focus for a second on the New York Times’ articles. That there is a PTSD problem is of great concern, and should be of great concern to all. Whilst the NY Times and I will never see eye to eye on soldiers serving in Iraq, war in general and the use of force in particular (and bear in mind I run a company that advocates the, “Professional and appropriate use of force,”) I believe that the implications and perceptual shift used here was both underhanded and inappropriate for a national and internationally recognised newspaper.
Whilst I am not keen to become a commentator on the rights of newspapers to report the facts in the manner they see fit, I do feel that an internationally recognised press symbol has abused its position by failing to support the soldiers, regardless of whether it supports the war. In my recce platoon we used to adhere by the adage, “Expect the worst, hope for the best.” I think I must have forgotten that with regard to the NYT – I should have simply expected the worst.
PTSD is a terrible psychological affliction, that can cause gradual but significant change in behaviour (drinking, aggression, other personality changes) or suddenly overcome someone, leading to a completely out-of-character act such as aggression or murder due to a flashback. Unsurprisingly, PTSD can play a part in the crimes committed by veterans, and as a mitigating factor by defence lawyers.
The psychological effect in each of these cases is for the psychiatrists, medical experts and ultimately the legal apparatus to decide. My concern is that the crimes demonstrate that the federal safety net in place to catch and treat sufferers is not effective, and that merely educating the soldiers themselves is not working. PTSD is a legitimate threat to anyone who has served in combat or experienced conditions of high stress. Knowing that, and mixing alcohol, loaded weapons and an aggravating situation is a recipe for disaster.
Whilst I regret any loss of life, I feel beholden to point out that if someone is stupid enough to confront someone who is drunk, angry and carrying a pistol, that there is the possibility of getting shot – whilst the murder is clearly wrong, such a confrontation is also an act of extreme Darwinism and that it was murder isn’t going to help when you’re dead. Those who have served in places of Iraq know the cheapness of life, and our internal control mechanisms are based on more finely honed, more aggressive self-control mechanisms; pulling a trigger is a lot easier the hundredth time than the first, we just control ourselves more in order not to do it. PTSD is, I suspect, in some instances the momentary failure of those control mechanisms as the perceived threat goes back to an Iraq, not Boise, Idaho, level. This is why local, state and federal governments, and communities, must aggressively acknowledge this problem, and accept the possibility of its existence within their areas of responsibility before it happens so that they are prepared.
There must be further education to both veterans of noticing and recognising the symptoms. At the same time, there must be legal guidelines on PTSD and its use in trials; clearly there is the opportunity to abuse this problem, which denigrates and potentially disadvantages the legitimate suffers. As much as I hate to advocate legal federalism, the serious crimes committed by veterans where PTSD may be used as a defence or mitigation perhaps should be removed to a federal forum, given that the PTSD arguably resulted from a federal action.
This is, to a great extent, a problem of federal making that suggests that both the government and local communities have not grasped the importance of post-combat care, and we must address these veteran-care issues more aggressively for those who need it.