The recent shooting in Thousand Oaks, California, is a terrible tragedy for our entire country. And especially for the veteran community—and all who focus on mental health. The gunman, a U.S. Marine veteran, killed 12 people before taking his own life. When a tragic act of violence occurs, we need strong leadership to bring our nation together, educate the public, and strengthen our communities. We need light, not heat. Instead, here’s what President Trump said about it on Friday morning: “He is a very sick puppy.” And added “He was a war veteran… he saw some pretty bad things. A lot of people say he had the PTSD.” He finished with “People come back…they’re never the same.” He speculated that the shooter had PTSD and implied it was the reason he murdered a dozen people.
Well, that sure doesn’t help the situation. Comments like this one from our Commander in Chief perpetuate a false and damaging narrative that veterans are broken and dangerous. Most people who suffer from PTSD, when able to get effective treatment, are able to live healthy, happy, meaningful lives.
When veterans with mental health injuries do hurt someone, it’s usually themselves, not someone else. We lose 20 veterans and servicemembers to suicide every single day. Which again highlights the critical importance of seamless access to quality and effective care, whether through the Department of Veterans Affairs or elsewhere. My organization, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, or IAVA, advocates every day for smart, specific, and deliberate change in Washington, D.C., that benefits and supports those that have served, ensuring they have the resources, support, and care that they need when they come home to their families and communities. And through our Rapid Response Referral Program, we help masters-level social workers provide our nation’s heroes with guidance, support, and links to critical on-the-ground resources. The tragic shooting on Wednesday underscores the need for programs like RRRP, to ensure that those in our community who need help get the help they need without getting bounced around fractured systems of care.
Most veterans, including those with mental health injuries, are not a danger to the public. Most often during emergencies like the one in Thousand Oaks, veterans are likely to be the EMT serving on the scene, the cop who responds, or the victim who gives his life to save another — like U.S. Marine veteran Dan Manrique, who ran into the bar during the shooting to protect others. Time and time again, veterans are the helpers. Despite the challenges, and despite the still severely limited resources, they’re soaring as a population, thanks to our core resilience and commitment of men and women who self-select to service. And thankfully, some folks like the founder of Craigslist are stepping up to send big reinforcements. But we’ll need much more.
Veterans Day is this Sunday. After the craziness of the election on Tuesday, fewer people are paying attention to that than they are to Afghanistan. And that’s saying something. It’s more important now more than ever, in challenging times and a tumultuous political climate, that we debunk false narratives about veterans who struggle with mental health injuries, and that as a nation we effectively represent, support and serve those that served our country. And that has to start—most of all—with the White House. Our veterans deserve nothing less.