When I heard about the Nov. 5 shootings at Fort Hood, I packed my bags for Killeen. As a former military wife, a military mom, and a clinician specializing in mass trauma, I suspected what I would find – not so much about the motivations for Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan’s murderous spree as about the military mindsets and myths that through the decades have put millions of other servicemen and servicewomen and their families in peril.
I’m not talking about faulty base security or questionable terrorist-tracking mechanisms. I’m much more worried about the U.S. military’s failure to provide adequate psychological care for those who put their lives on the line for us.
My personal history with military PTSD goes back to when the wounded warriors were mostly Vietnam veterans, including the Marine I married in 1977, who had previously served two tours of duty in that country. For years, as he worked in various locations in the States and overseas, I used my therapist’s training informally and formally to help other service personnel and their families handle mental health issues. More recently, as a college lecturer, I have seen military personnel who were my students break down emotionally because they and their families were facing a second or fourth deployment to one of the wars this country is fighting. Now, as a military mother whose son is back from Iraq and facing deployment to Afghanistan, I talk to North Texas military family members who stop by because they see the blue star pennant on my door. I also serve on a national joint services psychological advisory committee for wounded warriors. Part of the reason I headed to Killeen was to gather information for that panel.
During and after Vietnam, we didn’t have a name to put to the behaviors that so distressed us. I daily heard terrifying tales of anger and domestic violence, sleepless nights, fears of their own behavior – a list of criteria that later would diagnostically define post-traumatic stress disorder.