The Fort Hood Shooting and the Soldier’s Burden

PTSD and the psychological toll of war


| Online Exclusive: November 2009



War's Burden

image by Christiane Grauert

Most U.S. citizens have been largely insulated from the daily impact of our country’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now, as the nation grapples with the Fort Hood tragedy, we may find we can no longer ignore the psychic burdens that our soldiers must bear.

Major Nidal Malik Hasan, believed to have killed 13 people and wounded more than 30, is a psychiatrist who earned his medical degree from the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, the Washington Post reports. Over the past six years, he interned and served as a resident at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he was a liaison between wounded soldiers and psychiatry staff. He was also a fellow at the Center of Traumatic Stress Study at Bethesda military school.

It’s “a hazy and contradictory picture,” a team of Washington Post writers observe. Major Hasan enlisted out of high school, “received his medical training from the military, and spent his career in the Army, yet allegedly turned so violently against his uniformed colleagues.” But it may not be as contradictory as it seems.

“Our troops do not enlist because they want to destroy or kill,” Ed Tick writes in “Sharing War’s Burden,” excerpted from Yes! in the Sept.-Oct. 2008 Utne Reader. Tick is a psychotherapist and the director of Soldier’s Heart, a return and healing project for veterans. Utne Reader named him a visionary in 2008 . “No matter the political climate, most troops seek to serve traditional warrior values: to protect the country they love, its ideals, and especially their families, communities, and each other.”

He continues: “In my work counseling veterans of several wars, I’ve seen that PTSD is, in part, the tortured conscience of good people who did their best under conditions that would dehumanize anyone.”

According to the New York Times, Major Hasan was “mortified” by the idea of having to deploy. “He had people telling him on a daily basis the horrors they saw over there,” cousin Nader Hasan tells Times writer James Dao. To put this burden in context, here’s a passage from our March-April 2009 story “The Life and Lonely Death of Noah Pierce,” excerpted from Virginia Quarterly Review. It chronicles an Iraq veteran’s suicide:

saltedlightcom
11/21/2009 4:02:15 PM

Hi, According to a talked about study, about sharing a 20 dollar bill between Group A and Group B, only 10% are altruistic enough to always share 50/50. Having seen veterans from Vietnam who have self-destructed through drugs or alcohol, and read about those who have done the same in the newer conflicts, I couldn't grasp how people comments focused on the 'one's who stood strong' and entirely ignored the others. Colonel Ted Westhusing, probably one of the most honorable American Military officers who ever served the United States, committed suicide, due to the pressure of his beliefs and the contrasting events and issues, he confronted. To take the approach and label the problem, the fault of the liberal left or right, seems like a rather childish approach. America is not known as a reader of books or facts. Perhaps with an approach of teaching schoolchildren this necessary tool, people would be in a better position as a whole. Perhaps we would not be in all of these kinds of 'situations'. There was a book published on Amazon.com, that showed the mindset, of entirely too many Muslims, have not researched their own history of the Koran enough, to see the pacifistic thread. This book, is available through download on Kindle readers. (Lines From) The Holy Koran/Qu'ran - Sura's 1-3 By a White American Muslim (Kindle Edition) Until the world receives enough information, and measures over 50% altruistically, we won't 'solve' our problems really. Great article,Tick and Hanus


randall spaan
11/6/2009 9:54:09 PM

So Dr. Hassan is stressed out (because of PRE-traumatic stress syndrome, of all things!) and that's an excuse for mass murder? Are you as nuts as he is? The pablum puked out in this article demonstrates once and for all that the liberal mindset is a mental disorder! If Dr. Hassan didn't want to deploy (and fight fellow Muslims) he could have claimed conscientious objector status, possibly gone to prison, and in that case even become a martyr and a hero to the anti-war Left. But he chose a different path. Why? The answer lies in his religious belief system (revealed in conversation to peers and in his rantings on internet websites) which liberals refuse to address because it's not politically correct to do so. Evidently the "ostrich syndrome" is alive and well in liberal la la land. It's pablum like this that makes reading Utne Reader so interesting.


gary ashcraft
11/6/2009 6:14:19 PM

Let's get one thing STRAIGHT from the get-go posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by it's very given name is " POSTTRAUMATIC " AFTER THE FACT NOT PRETRAUMATIC. I have no idea what was eating this soldiers lunch but it sure was'nt PTSD. I was an unwilling consript for Viet Nam ( yet I served ). I see men and women at the VA to this day, the shell shocked walking wounded of our nations armed conflicts across the globe. We as human beings are not physically and emotionaly prepared for modern warfare at any level, yet young people still step up to do the task, serve, live, die, wounded in every imaginable way, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and yet they keep stepping up. This guy got a free ride to an education from the U.S. Army ( we know that as a fact ) and yet when the bill came due it would appear his reservations ( MORTIFIED ? )took a toll in other human lives not his own ( we also know that as a fact ). I have no idea how this will play out but one thing I am sure of and that is that it will take some slick Philadelphia Lawyer to get this guy a trial ( Military or Civilian ) that uses PTSD as a defence.


k kruse
11/6/2009 3:57:06 PM

So, Afghanistan is "the forgotten war" no more. Increasing casualties, confusion about our goals, and ignorance about the Afghan culture conspire against us. But there's no mistaking the facts about war: It's real. It's messy. And it's costly. But, in my recollection, no war has ever been "popular." Your article mentions the need to bridge the typical ideological gaps between soldiers and citizens by creating much-needed connective tissue between them. I encourage citizens to listen to soldiers before jumping to conclusions about their goals or their experience on the front lines. In this age of almost instant access to Tweets, blogs and Facebook accounts, the possibilities for constructive communication are limitless. And soldiers are increasingly turning to these digital tools - not only to keep in touch with family and friends, but to share their experiences with the world at-large. One of those soldiers is my friend, Jeff Courter - a suburban businessman who, in the wake of 9/11, chose to leave his cozy suburban family life behind to volunteer as an Afghan Border Police trainer. He documented his experience in a blog - which is now a book: "AFGHAN JOURNAL: A Soldier's Year in Afghanistan." (http://www.afghanistan-journal.com) The thoughtful impressions and insights of soldiers like Jeff can add depth, dimension and authenticity to any discussion of this tough topic.