Responding To PTSD – Understanding The Fort Hood Shooting And What We Can Do

PTSD is killing us. We must act and help each other.

PTSD is killing us. We must act and help each other.

What a tragedy at Fort Hood. More deaths. We don’t know at this point why Ivan Lopez killed 4 people including himself at the Fort Hood shooting yesterday. They mention depression, anxiety, Ambien and other medications, deployment, and possibly PTSD. If and this is a big if, the shooting was triggered because of PTSD, we failed Ivan long ago. But let’s be clear, in the end, it might have nothing to do with PTSD or everything to do with PTSD, we just don’t know.

The incident is a reminder of something truly tragic that impacts all of our troops. We wait to help our troops unpack the trauma they might have suffered during service until they are already showing signs of cracking. And once that happens, the process to actually help them can be a bureaucratic nightmare. Notice they said they knew Ivan had depression and was getting psychological help, but he was in the “process” of being evaluated for PTSD. Seriously, in the process? Once someone has engaged in mental health treatment, it isn’t that hard to diagnosis PTSD and it doesn’t take that long. They know that. He should have already been getting help. The system just doesn’t make it happen. They’d rather wait for someone to be discharged and hope the VA takes care of it.

The hard part with PTSD is reaching someone suffering in the first place. PTSD thrives in the dark and troops feel a stigma about coming forward for help. We spend years and millions of dollars training them, but do almost nothing to help them unpack the traumas of service when they get home. It gets locked away in the culture of the military, and the issues often don’t completely manifest themselves until they’ve been discharged and are home. Back home where never before have fewer people served. They usually just end up facing it on their own. I hear from them everyday and they are alone and feel helpless.

At the beginning, during, and end of service, we should train our troops to unpack the mental baggage of service focusing on ways to help them address issues as soon as they present themselves. And we must begin to demand that ALL troops who serve go through some type of effective mental health/life reintegration before they are discharged. I don’t mean a show and tell at a TAPs class that is more focused on resume’s and handouts. I mean something like a retreat where all of our troops can really begin the process to unpack their service and prepare for the rest of their life. We train them to fight. Let’s train them for life. We owe them that much.

Lastly, I don’t want to glamorize or make excuses for the shooter in any way. He killed 3 people and injured many more. That means survivors, families, loved ones, friends, and first responders who will dealing with the impact of this traumatic event for years to come. We must remember them not just now while it’s in the news, but as the months and years pass and they themselves struggle to deal with something so tragic, frightening, and hard to understand. We must not let events like this Fort Hood shooting become forgotten memories.

If you are interested, I’ll be talking more about this on the Bill Handel radio show tomorrow, Friday, April 3rd, 2014 at 8am Pacific/11am Eastern. The Bill Handel Show on KFI 640am is the number one morning talk show in Los Angeles. You can stream the show here: Click here for Bill Handel.