September 28, 2013

Veteran advocate frustrated over media coverage of Navy Yard gunman, PTSD

By Phillip Carter

Source: The Daily Caller

Journalist(s) Caroline May

A veteran’s advocacy group is frustrated with the way Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis has been portrayed in the media, arguing that linking Alexis’ violence to his military service unfairly stigmatizes veterans.

“I thought it was particularly lazy. Almost right away, they were talking about his military service as if it was some sort of excuse.” Tom Tarantino, retired Army Captain and policy associate with the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America told The Daily Caller about the media’s coverage of Alexis in an interview.

Tarantino felt that suggestions that Alexis’ PTSD from 9/11 that lead to his rampage — leaving 12 people dead and others injured — were especially disappointing and convenient.

“Not only is insulting, but it’s completely factually wrong,” Taratino said. “It’s so weird that we have this continual perception in the American zeitgeist of veterans being unstable or ticking time bombs or veterans with combat related mental health wounds, are prone to these types of violent acts, and they just aren’t.”

According to the latest report on PTSD, which will be released in December from the Department of Veterans Affairs, since 9/11 nearly 30 percent of the 834,463 returning veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, treated at V.A. hospitals have been diagnosed with PTSD.

Will Simmons, an IAVA leadership fellow and air force veteran with PTSD, told TheDC that it is unfair to lump Alexis in the same category as veteran with PTSD.

“I’m the guy next door. I’m the guy that you probably don’t know has PTSD, but I’m certainly not going to be willing to discuss anything like that when the first things people think of when they hear ‘PTSD’ and ‘veteran’ is, ‘Oh, he’s going to shoot the place up.’ It’s just too much of a label,” Simmons said.

According to Simmons, combating ignorance about PTSD is all about education: “[I]t’s really understanding that PTSD is not a showstopper. It is not the end of the world. It does not mean that the person is unstable; it’s just something that this person has to go through.”

Simmons and Tarantino echoed the sentiments of other groups that have expressed concern that the media conflated his violence with his military service.

“This is the ‘Rambo’ narrative that was so dangerous and hurtful to the Vietnam generation come to life,” Phillip Carter, an Iraq War veteran and senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington told Millitary.com.

“It’s a broad brush painting on all of us, and it’s totally unfair,” Joe Davis said, national spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, added to Millitary.com, explaining that veterans rarely resort to violence. “We need to protect our own image out there. This is not who we are.”

And, according to Tarantino, the fast assumptions do have an effect.

“It’s hard to make sense of something that’s complicated and it maybe gives people a measure of comfort to try to assign some sort of basic reasoning to it, but the problem is that the reasoning they’re assigning to it is wrong, and what it ends up doing is it ends up hurting all the men and women who are seeking care and treatment,” he said.

  • Phillip Carter

    Senior Fellow and Director, Military, Veterans, and Society Program

    Phillip Carter is Senior Fellow and Director of the Military, Veterans, and Society Program at the Center for a New American Security.  His research focuses on issues facing v...