Hager: It takes a community to combat PTSD
When Iraq War veteran Spc. Ivan Lopez opened fire at the Fort Hood Army base in Texas last week, killing three and injuring 16 before killing himself, he was in the midst of being evaluated for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Lopez had served four months in Iraq, was not wounded and did not suffer a battle-related traumatic brain injury, said Army Secretary John McHugh.
But Lopez had reported suffering a brain injury while deployed, and he was under treatment for conditions that included depression, anxiety and sleep disturbances, officials said.
The shooting rampage -- the second at Fort Hood in less than five years -- underscores the challenge of treating mental illness in active military personnel and veterans.
A rally to raise awareness about physically and mentally wounded veterans will be held Saturday in Columbus Circle by the nonprofit The Wounded Walk, co-founded by retired Marine Corps Cpl. Adam Shatarsky.
One of Shatarsky's fellow Marines committed suicide at Camp Pendleton in California. There were no indications the man would take his own life, Shatarsky said. Time and again we hear that there was no indication and that "we never thought it would happen to us."
An average of 18 to 22 veterans commit suicide daily, according to the 2012 Suicide Data Report released by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The agency offers outreach through nearly 200 specialized PTSD treatment programs. To their credit, the military and the VA are trying to de-stigmatize PTSD, depression and anxiety. Several military personnel have begun to offer innovative treatments such as yoga classes to teach soldiers how to counter stress through meditation and other non-pharmaceutical methods.
This shooting shouldn't launch another gun law debate -- though it already has. It should trigger discussions about mental illness. The stigmas of weakness that have long been associated with depression, anxiety and other mental disorders need to be chipped away within the military and in civilian life, too.
Shatarsky has started to do this. His support network of fellow Marines helps veterans and their families share their stories -- and grievances.
Hannah Hager is a content director and freelance writer living in Alphabet City.