Tuesday, March 13, 2012


I wasn't going to do it. I wasn't going to blog or comment on the situation in Afghanistan. Where a Staff Sergeant apparently walked into an Afghan village and proceeded to shoot and kill 16 Afghan civilians. I wasn't going to add my voice, say what's already been said, or try to say something new. And then I saw this:


Truly, what offended me first was the actual headline. Boom, "Sergeant Psycho". In letters so large and bold that you notice nothing else on the page. Not the photograph, not the ad at the bottom, not the secondary headline. Just "Sergeant Psycho".

Stop and think about that for a minute. "Psycho". Early reports are that this soldier was on his 4th deployment in 11 years of service. There is a report that he had been diagnosed with PTSD, but declared fit for duty. Even if these reports were untrue, or simply unknown, a rational person immediately knows and understands that it is not a rational person who walks off a base at 3 a.m. and kills 16 civilians. A soldier, a man with a wife and two kids, does not take this action in a normal state of mind. And the New York Daily News feels it appropriate to derogatorily label this man a psycho.

"Psycho". Forget what could have caused him to do this, forget what our military has been through, done and seen over the course of these wars. Forget that this soldier comes from Ft. Lewis, well known and making the headlines regularly for its failure to help and protect our guys. Forget what could have caused this soldier to become unbalanced enough to commit this act. "Psycho." It does not boil down to something so simple, so un-empathetic, so judgmental, so cruel.

After I sort through my disgust at the headline, I focus on the secondary headline. "Killer G.I. had suffered traumatic brain injury."  Now process that. What is the reader's reaction? Just as the media has recently led us to believe that every veteran has PTSD, and this somehow makes them evil, crazed people who could snap and kill us at any moment, the NY Daily News seems ready to have us believe that we should link traumatic brain injury (TBI) and "Psycho" or "Killer". No? There it is in black and white. "Psycho". "Killer". "Traumatic brain injury".

I have seen firsthand TBI. PTSD. I've seen the irritability, the fear and tension brought into what used to be normal, everyday situations. I've seen the headaches, the tinnitus (ringing in the ears) that TBI leaves behind. I've seen the flashes of anger. And I've seen that our military community needs help. They've taken the weight of these wars and carried them alone. They've gone from war to home to war to home. Back again, over and over. They've carried with them the pain of leaving their families, the fear of war, the adrenaline of war, the difficulties caused when you dive into a war, but life keeps going at home. They carried back with them the things they've seen, they've done, the hurts physical and mental, seen and unseen.  And they've come home to a world where society doesn't understand a thing about them, where society (in general) doesn't care. They come home and spend whatever little time they have at home listening to the stupid, insensitive comments of civilians who don't understand, many of whom don't care to understand. They've come home to a VA that can't or won't help them. TBI demands help. Yet I've seen firsthand a soldier who called the VA only to have the phone answered by a woman who didn't even know what TBI is or the meaning of PTSD.

And they've come home to a failed system. A system that doesn't take care of them. That in some cases punishes them for admitting they need help. A system that quite simply has failed to help them.  At Ft. Lewis, where this soldier was based, a number of veterans (the report stated the number is as high as 2,400) were diagnosed with PTSD and then had this diagnoses reversed. Not because they had been helped. Not because the diagnosis was wrong. Because the doctor became concerned about the cost of paying benefits to and caring for these veterans. Rather than give them the help they needed, the doctor simply reversed their diagnosis, claimed it was all OK.

I am not, do not, and will not condone what this Staff Sergeant did. I do not think there is any time or condition where we can say that it's OK, release him of all fault, or let it slide. Regardless of how the system may or may not have failed him, this soldier killed 16 innocent civilians. He deserves, and will receive, some level of punishment. But he also deserves a fair review. He deserves and has earned the right to have a mental evaluation, a real offer of a help. He deserves for us to gather all the facts, to see if he was failed, or if he acted without hint of reason. He does not deserve "Psycho".

More than anything else, we must learn from this. We have a choice laid before us. The circumstances around this choice have escalated. We've had kill squads, we've had suicides, we've had suicide-by-cop. And now this. These men have not failed us. We have failed these men. We must deal appropriately with this soldier and we must finally make the change. Step it up. Fix the VA. Fix the mentality. Help these guys carry the weight. Stop assuming and inferring that PTSD/TBI = "Psycho", "Killer". Help.

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