Murder and PTSD by Randall T. Longwith, Esq.
What effect, if any, does military service during war time have on the human psyche? Can it cause someone to kill? Recently, the New York Times published a report that details the number of Iraq and Afghanistan Military Veterans involved in killings throughout the United States… and the report is stunning. The Times found at least 121 cases where a United States war veteran was charged with involvement in a homicide.
The trend of our newest veterans being involved in killings on the “home-front” can be largely, according to the study, attributed to four letters — PTSD. PTSD is the acronym for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD, according to the American Psychological Association, is a severe anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to any event that results in psychological trauma. This event may involve the threat of death to oneself or to someone else. It may also involve the witnessing of dead or dismembered bodies. In essence, PTSD can be caused by any event that severely places one’s psychological integrity into question to such an extent that it overwhelms the individual’s ability to cope. As an effect of this psychological trauma, PTSD is less frequent and more enduring than the more commonly seen acute stress response. Diagnostic symptoms for PTSD include re-experiencing the original trauma(s) through flashbacks or nightmares, avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma, and increased arousal—such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, anger, and hypervigilance. Formal diagnostic criteria (both DSM-IV-TR and ICD-10) require that the symptoms last more than one month and cause significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
Our failure, or more importantly, the military’s failure to properly screen for and treat this mental injury is the source of so many problems our newest veterans face — from drug and alcohol abuse, to homelessness, to joblessness, to spousal abuse, to suicide, and now, to homicide.
We, as a community, have got to get serious about this issue, and do three key things:
1st we must make it a requirement for troops and veterans to get periodic mental and psychological evaluations and we must appropriate and fund the money needed to ensure there are enough qualified counselors and doctors to do the job. If a soldier who fought for our freedom lives too far to get an evaluation from a Veteran’s Administration center, VA center, we, as a community, should allow them to see a board-certified mental health professional, and reimburse the cost.
The military and VA must, not should, MUST get serious about these screenings. They did it in the past for physical ailments such as HIV and AIDS, now it is time they put forth the same effort for the psychological scars caused by war. Every member of the military must constantly be tested for these, period. Mental health screenings should, no must, also become a part of the culture of the military. Period.
2nd , we must do away with all the red tape and hurdles a veteran must go through to “prove” they have PTSD, when they take it upon themselves to seek help. Far too many veterans are denied a “full PTSD” diagnosis because the cost of providing them with full disability is too much for the VA budget to handle. We need to scrap the entire process, and no longer put the burden on the veteran to ‘prove’ they have PTSD. In addition, we must develop an environment though out the military where it is acceptable to admit you are feeling stressed. It is common today for soldiers to shy away from admitting they are feeling the pangs of PTSD because of the social stigma that it may cause amongst their peers. This is, in a word, stupid. Our military must develop an environment where those who need help are free to seek out that help without the fear of being mocked. Our soldiers deserve it and so do we as a society.
3rd, we must rigorously screen all returning troops for mental strain — not ask them to fill out a simple questionnaire. We must go through the painstaking efforts to ensure that one has not been psychologically wounded by the war such that they are a harm to themselves or others. Lets face it, when we train these kids for war we are molding them to be killers. This is not an opinion, it is a fact. After training to kill, we send them to go risk their lives and the lives of their fellow soldiers and friends and kill the enemy. While in war, our soldiers see things that the human psyche is often times unequipped to digest. Joseph Conrad perhaps put it best when he termed the vision of war seen by a soldier, “the horror.” Psychological scars suffered by our military soldiers should be expected must be evaluated and treated. Until we tackle this serious issue, and treat it like the serious injury it is, we will continue to see these disturbing trends — many of which also applied to the Vietnam veterans. Time is of the essence, now. The question is, will we leave a new generation of veterans behind?
Below is a link to the New York times article on PTSD and Murder.