The recent shooting at Fort Hood last month happened almost exactly 6 months after the shooting in Washington Navy Yard in September, and one year after the shooting at Quantico in March of 2013. With each incident, the news has focused more and more on the diagnosis (or possibility of a diagnosis) of PTSD for all three perpetrators of violence. There is a growing epidemic of PTSD among veterans and a significant lack of resources to deal with the problem, we need more attention to this issue so that people who control the money will feel the pressure to take further action. However, I’m also concerned about how these stories are being framed and what the public takes away from the meaning of PTSD.
The first shooting sprees on a military base happened in 1994. Another followed in 1995. Nothing for almost 14 years, then the first Fort Hood shooting happened in 2009. None happened between 2009 and 2012. So since 1994, the United States has had six shooting sprees in 20 years. It’s certainly alarming that the last three have happened so close together, but let’s put this in a different perspective when you bring PTSD into the picture..
About 5.2 million adults have PTSD during a given year, according to the National Center of PTSD, and about 7-8% of the population will have PTSD at some point in their life. Not everyone who goes through a trauma will experience PTSD and it’s not always possible to predict who will be in the 10-20%. Violence is not one of the common symptoms of PTSD, though the catalog of symptoms when misdiagnosed and left untreated can lead to other mental health issues that result in violence.
The effects of PTSD can impact veterans’ spouses and families. “Emotional and behavioral withdrawal, emotional numbing, and anger issues in veterans with PTSD can damage familial relationships and lead to significant psychological symptoms and distress for veterans’ family members,” including secondary traumatization of the family.1 This creates a cycle of trauma in the household that affects everyone, including the veteran.
In February of 2013, the VA issued a new report with suicide data, the most comprehensive survey to date. These numbers indicate that approximately 22 veterans commit suicide every day. Every day. The VA report says this average has remained close to the same for the past 12 years, though some experts wonder if these numbers might even be low.
6 military base shootings by veterans in 20 years.
85,000+ veteran suicides in 12 years.
The potential risks of violence for veterans with PTSD is there, but the overwhelming majority of PTSD sufferers will not engage in random aggressive acts. When violence is enacted, it’s more likely to be committed against their closest family members or themselves. The incident at Fort Hood and other military base shootings, when reported on in the media as a case related to the PTSD epidemic, can draw attention to issues that need support but it may perpetuate inaccurate ideas about what it means to live with PTSD. We all deserve to heal from trauma, no matter how long or winding the path may be.
1“Psychological sequelae of combat violence: A review of the impact of PTSD on the veteran’s family and possible interventions.” Aggression and Violent Behavior (2004); 9, 477–501