Many within the military and veteran community were shocked and saddened by the murder of Chris Kyle.
What makes this story so distressing for those who have worn the uniform is that the murderer appears to be another veteran, Eddie Ray Routh, whom Mr. Kyle may have been attempting to help.
America seems fascinated with the questions swirling around this case:
– Did Routh have post-traumatic stress disorder?
– If so, was his PTSD caused by combat?
– If not PTSD, did Routh have another mental illness that led him to kill Kyle and another innocent man?
Not surprisingly, I have been interviewed several times this week by journalists who are covering different aspects of this story. Journalists who are knowledgeable about the issues affecting those who serve and their families have wondered whether this story will create a negative perception of our returning troops—a perception that is unjustified and destructive.
And I have spoken with and heard from friends within the military, as well as those who have recently separated from service, who express the same concern.
Perhaps in an effort to manage our uneasiness and discomfort with war and warriors, we try to shove all of those who have served our country into some easy-to-define box. Perhaps by seeing veterans as different, maybe dangerous, we create a desired and comfortable distance that allows us to tolerate the idea of war and killing.
But the reality is that veterans are just like the rest of us. They come in all shapes, sizes, genders, races, and ages. They have various strengths, tendencies, vulnerabilities, and predispositions.
Most of the service members who come home struggling with the understandable psychological wounds of war will suffer quietly. They will avoid crowds, keep to themselves, and feel isolated. Some may have difficulty concentrating.
Others may be tormented by memories they can’t suppress and images they can’t forget.
Some may lose relationships, jobs, and eventually, hope.
Very few will become violent—very few will make the national news.
We need to make sure that these non-headline-worthy vets get the help and support they need and deserve.
And we also need to focus on the rest of our veterans—those who aren’t struggling with mental health concerns but may be struggling to find a job or their next mission in life.
They don’t need or want a hand out. They only want the opportunity to build a life, raise a family, and contribute to our communities—just like the rest of us.
Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen is a Washington, D.C.-area psychologist who founded Give An Hour, a private non-profit group that pairs volunteer mental-health professionals with U.S. military personnel back from war.