The Radical Center
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The Radical Center

Shootings and Violence at Home: One Cost of America’s Foreign Policy

A military veteran with PTSD shoots up a college bar; he has severe mental health issues, he has incidents with the police.

Our foreign policy is doing two things to young military personnel at the same time — one is it is giving them training in how to kill people. Second, it is given them traumatic mental problems. The result is many are happy to kill themselves, and many are happy to slaughter others — family members, friends, and sometimes strangers; and they are good at doing it.
The National Institute of Health says:

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that PTSD afflicts:

• Almost 31 percent of Vietnam veterans

• As many as 10 percent of Gulf War (Desert Storm) veterans

• 11 percent of veterans of the war in Afghanistan

• 20 percent of Iraqi war veterans

Most sufferers with PTSD do not become violent, but some do and the more cases of PTSD created by our violent foreign policy the more likely it is victims will return and slaughter people at home.

In 2008 the New York Times published “Across America, Deadly Echoes of Foreign Battle,” precisely outlining this problem.

Town by town across the country, headlines have been telling similar stories. Lakewood, Wash.: “Family Blames Iraq After Son Kills Wife.” Pierre, S.D.: “Soldier Charged With Murder Testifies About Postwar Stress.” Colorado Springs: “Iraq War Vets Suspected in Two Slayings, Crime Ring.”

Individually, these are stories of local crimes, gut-wrenching postscripts to the war for the military men, their victims and their communities. Taken together, they paint the patchwork picture of a quiet phenomenon, tracing a cross-country trail of death and heartbreak.

The New York Times found 121 cases in which veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed a killing in this country, or were charged with one, after their return from war. In many of those cases, combat trauma and the stress of deployment — along with alcohol abuse, family discord and other attendant problems — appear to have set the stage for a tragedy that was part destruction, part self-destruction.

In the case of Jesse Melanson of Maine he was given medication by the Veterans Administration for his PTSD but it made him sick and he was reluctant to take it. His sister, Lisa Melanson said, “He told me when he’s not on his medication he has thoughts of hurting people, or himself.” In his case he put the gun to his own head and pulled the trigger.

Gilbert Negrete was in Iraq and Afghanistan. He went to the local VA hospital for help. According to his attorney, “Mr. Negrete returned from combat seeking treatment and was turned away, time and time again.” Negrete became angry and pulled out a knife and was shot in the chest by the VA guard, he survived. As far as the VA sees it, the incident solves their problem. A VA spokesman said, “While a veteran — or any individual — is incarcerated, the duty to provide his/her medical care generally rests with the prison or jail.” Christine Kantas Herbert, his attorney, said: “This case illustrates how the VA is not supporting their vets when they return from combat needing help. Telling a vet who is experiencing PTSD to come back weeks later when their ‘medication is in’ is not being proactive.”

Albert Wong, 36, a veteran of the Afghanistan invasion went to the Yountville Veterans Home, which survives with private donations. He was in a PTSD program with residential care but was told he had to leave. Dressed in black he entered the facility and took staff hostage — including the woman who had expelled him from the program. Wong killed the three hostages and himself.

A friend of one of the victims said, “People were notified that he [Wong] was violent. Nothing was done. All the proper people were notified… the sheriff’s department, the vets’ health. Everybody knew. All the flags were there.” It appears staff knew Wong was prone to violence and, instead of finding him the help he needed, evicted him from the program thus terminating the only help he was receiving.

Ian Long, 28, went into the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks ready to kill. After killing a dozen people he turned his weapon on himself and committed suicide. “Investigators knocked on doors,” said ABC News, “of surrounding residents to find out what they may know about Long. One neighbor who knew Long said he was a veteran who suffered from PTSD. She said, ‘I don’t know what he was doing with a gun.’”

Veterans of our foreign “police actions” return home with PTSD but the military tends to ignore them. Those are costs the military doesn’t wish to pay. Programs are routinely phased out and veterans are told to “come back” later. The difference between suffering with PTSD and a violence incident can be just too much “come back later.” But the federal government continues to ignore the crisis it created.

Dave Bristol is a vet with PTSD who received help from a VA run support group, but not anymore.

In March, he said, the mental health social worker assigned to guide two group meetings a week retired, and the VA killed the support group, leaving about 20 PTSD sufferers without the help they need to live at least semi-normal lives.

Bristol said the group asked the VA to reinstate the social worker but just got a runaround.

A spokeswoman for the VA in Orlando said the agency has gone to an “evidence-based approach” for “optimal clinical outcome” in treating mental health problems.

The New York Times reported:

The National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study, considered the most thorough analysis of this population, found that 15 percent of the male veterans still suffered from full-blown post-traumatic stress disorder more than a decade after the war ended. Half of the veterans with active PTSD had been arrested or in jail at least once, and 34.2 percent more than once. Some 11.5 percent of them had been convicted of felonies, and veterans are more likely to have committed violent crimes than nonveterans, according to government studies. In the mid-1980s, with so many Vietnam veterans behind bars that Vietnam Veterans of America created chapters in prisons, veterans made up a fifth of the nation’s inmate population.

Vets suffering PTSD are too easily ignored. Often the results are self-harm, suicide alcoholism, or addiction.

Almost one-third of all service persons in the ongoing Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and its complications of suicide and addiction. Our veterans are more than twice as likely to commit suicide than their peers in the civilian population — and the rates are rising. Between 1999 and 2010, the overall suicide rate among males in the U.S. was 19.4 per 100,000, and 4.9 per 100,000 for females. The current rate for military personnel is 38.3 per 100,000 males and 12.8 per 100,000 females; at one point, more soldiers were dying from suicide than from enemy combatants.

For much of modern history those who suffered were punished for it. They were accused of faking their problems, some were executed for desertion. They were seen as cowards and weak, they weren’t “manly” in ways acceptable to military culture.

Too often people see this as collateral damage — the cost of a “defending America.” But, often it is not America we are defending. Our foreign policy is a shortsighted attempts to remake the world in our own image by force and violence when necessary. Given that people tend to resist being “made over” involuntarily the force and violence is necessary. Our foreign policy is taking American young people and breaking them psychologically.

Our military is training individuals to kill and to be ever vigilant and on guard for danger around them. Many veterans return home fearful — and often unsure what it is they fear. They feel unsafe and are more likely to carry firearms. They are also taught to respond to perceived danger with deadly force. These broken individuals are more likely to use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate and thus more likely to loose control. And many will snap and kill — usually themselves, often loved ones, and sometimes people they don’t know at all.

These causalties are one of the costs of our foreign policy and glorification of war, but politicians will never acknowledge that.

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A blog for the Moorfield Storey Institute: a liberaltarian think tank.

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James Peron

James Peron is the president of the Moorfield Storey Institute, was the founding editor of Esteem a LGBT publication in South Africa under apartheid.