I was, like many others, shocked to hear of the death of SOC Chris Kyle. Many others, especially those who knew him, are far better suited to write about him. I never had the chance to meet him or his friend Chad Littlefield, who was killed alongside him.
I would like to discuss why I am quite simply dumbfounded as to how this happened, and then I would like to discuss PTSD. This is a difficult article for me to write on a number of levels.
For a veteran of the Iraq war - a Marine veteran, no less - to kill a man he knew had once fought alongside him against a common enemy is unconscionable.
I have never encountered an American military veteran who found justification in (objectively) unjustified violence. I have never encountered someone who I could tell was dealing with problems after a deployment who thought that hurting others who had done nothing to deserve it was a solution. Although veterans are often exceptionally skilled at the application of violence, they do not apply it to every situation with wanton disregard for its effects.
If anything, those fighting a battle against themselves did just that - they only wanted to hurt themselves or punish themselves - to hold themselves accountable for situations over which they had no control.
I don't deny that people who fall outside these statements exist, only that they are so few in number as to be exceedingly rare.
For me to bring up the fact that the VA told me I had PTSD in conversation with people who have never been in the military is quite uncommon. It is not a point of pride and the greatest frustration comes from dealing with those who haven't been there. Some pay lip service to veterans out of politeness, some genuinely mean it - but neither group was there with us, and all look at us differently.
I don't want to be seen differently. I don't want to be looked at with pity, fear, disgust, or mockery. I have had life experiences, ones that resulted from my choices, as have you. I joined to help people and wasn't always able to. That's my problem and not yours. It's not anything I have ever used as an excuse to lash out at anyone else, verbally or physically.
But it's easier to put someone with PTSD in the "crazed war veteran" box than it is to put real thought into their character or motivations.
I don't know why Mr. Kyle and Mr. Littlefield's killer (ym"sh) did what he did. Maybe we'll know tomorrow or maybe we'll never know.
What I do know in my heart is that his actions cannot be reconciled with the simple acronym "PTSD."
...and each other. What do I mean by this?
I mean that I grow weary of hearing about how veterans need help. I'm tired of hearing things like "Veteran unemployment is so high, why doesn't somebody do something?" Here's why.
Veterans have demonstrated a lot about themselves just by being in the military.
In order to join the military, you have to score (roughly, depending on the service) at least 30 on the ASVAB, which is a percentile based test. This doesn't mean that you're smarter than a third of the country if you make it in the military, but your aptitude for general work is higher than a significant portion of the potential workforce. You also have to meet decent physical fitness standards, and most people maintain them during their time in the military. Of course, military service is difficult, and a lot of broken people come out on the other side. But being part of a team that does hard things means being less of a quitter when difficulties are encountered.
Some of the best help for a vet comes from other vets.
The only people looking out for you when you're deployed are other people wearing uniforms like yours. Under stress, the bonds that form when human life is entrusted to other like-minded individuals are immensely strong. After exiting the military, there's no reason for veterans to stop helping one another, in one way or another. I don't mean handouts, but assisting each other in finding employment, making connections that might lead to further opportunities, or helping recover from mental or physical injuries by doing fun things.
Solid personal relationships are also crucial. Family and friends that may or may not have been in the military and are supportive of vets on a personal level may quite literally mean the difference between life and death or success and failure. I certainly do not mean to say that vets should only become friends with or depend on other vets, but this should not be ignored, either.
Veterans are probably going to college.
In a down economy, it makes a lot of sense to use GI Bill benefits to both attain a college degree and bide your time until (hopefully) the economy recovers. Plus, the prospect of getting paid to go to a place where attractive young women wearing not a whole lot of clothing gather sounds pretty good to young men who've spent plenty of time away from such things. I would also assume that single female vets might also appreciate going to a place where young men don't ignore them. College is a great place for veterans to go, and this probably explains some of why the unemployment rate for veterans is high.
Veterans, as a whole, don't need handouts.
Part of strength is admitting weakness and a need for help at times, but many vets have been through a lot. They're tougher and stronger individuals for it. Not all veterans, mind you - some truly do need help, and there are times when veterans are especially vulnerable. Situations that might bring a "normal" person near financial or emotional ruin could be enough to push a vet dealing with other stresses over that edge, for example. Others are dirtbags and want free stuff that they don't deserve. But when it comes to "veterans" in the way that people lump all veterans together...well, I know that I don't want special recognition or treatment, and I know the same goes for my friends that have been or are in the military, too.
I know that it will be easy for this article to be misinterpreted. I know that a lot of people want to help veterans in some way. I can appreciate that. But veterans are the sort of people that get things done for themselves, and they shouldn't wait around for someone else to help them find a job when times get tough.