Fort Drum, NY 10th Mountain Division memorial.

Fort Drum, NY 10th Mountain Division memorial.

The recent Fort Hood shooting has once again shined a light on the military mental health crisis. Whatever caused this tragedy to happen, we know that the shooter was already in the military’s mental health care system, yet it seems they were caught off guard by his violence.

An article today in the Los Angeles Times talks about the military mental health crisis.  This is the most revealing sentence in the article, “In the military, a diagnosis of PTSD is largely based on a service member’s self-reporting. Because of the stigma associated with the disorder, many service members downplay any symptoms.”

You can read the entire article here: http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-ft-hood-ptsd-20140404,0,471425.story#axzz2yIoARs3p

Mental health training and monitoring should be part of the military system from the beginning of boot camp. War is not natural. Training for war is not natural. From the dawn of time we have known that. We must use the same effort, training, and technology that makes young men and women soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen, and use that knowledge and experience to make mental health resiliency and screening a regular part of their service.

Does this mean that if you serve you have PTSD? Of course not. But it does mean that nowhere in life is like the military and military training exists for one primary purpose, to make good soldiers, Marines, sailors and airman. What is so hard about being honest about that? If we do more sooner to help all troops deal with the potential mental health issues of themselves and their friends, they will not only be stronger and more resilient, they will be better prepared when their military service ends. They will be better prepared to look out for each other and create an environment that kills the stigma of service related conditions like PTSD.

Why doesn’t the military do a better job? Because too many higher ups in the military look at our young troops as numbers, not people. They are afraid if they confront mental health issues before people crack, that troops will be removed unnecessarily from units, or fighting spirit will suffer. It will make their “readiness” numbers look bad.  More than anything this is why the stigma of mental health issues exists, “suck it up, don’t make me look bad, don’t let your friends down, it only happens to weak people.” That attitude is still sadly the rule, rather than the exception in the military in spite of what the Pentagon publicists might say. I spoke once to over 200 combat Marines about how there should be no stigma when it comes to PTSD. I’ve spoken to thousands of other troops and veterans in smaller groups. I always get a standing ovation and clapping. I don’t receive a hint of cynicism or disbelief. Our troops will respond positively to the truth, and hope. The best way to respond to the military mental health crisis is with truth.

This should make you angry. The anger should make you do something. Contact a congressman, put a sign in your yard, write something on Facebook, spread the word on what is happening. Better yet, engage a veteran or someone on active duty and support them.

Why do I get angry? For a lot of reasons, but two live with me everyday: a Marine platoon that has had 9 suicides since returning home and being discharged, and an Army platoon that has had 11 suicides since coming home. That makes me mad. By the way, a platoon has about 40. Chew on that.

The Fort Hood shooting is tragic for many reasons: the loss of innocent life and the effect on their loved ones and families, the skewed perception it gives people of mental health issues like PTSD, and yet another example of insufficient military mental health care. But hopefully it will serve one positive purpose, a light and trumpet call that we need to spend as much effort caring for the mental health of our troops as we do training them to fight.

I always post the above picture of a memorial from Fort Drum because to me it exemplifies the young men and women who volunteer at a young age to serve our country, whatever the cost: Deeds not words.

We owe them the same dedication and effort in bringing them home healthy with a bright future, whatever the cost.

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