In January 2016, Track Palin, a US Army veteran and Sarah Palin’s son, was arrested in Alaska charged with “assault in the fourth degree (domestic violence), interfering with a domestic violence report, and misconduct involving weapons in the fourth degree” – all misdemeanours (Gawker http://gawker.com/track-palin-was-charged-with-assault-last-night-1753857153).
The day after, Sarah Palin stumped at a Trump rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma
“My son, like so many others, they come back a bit different,” the former Alaska governor said. “They come back hardened.[…]
“I can certainly relate with other families who kind of feel these ramifications of PTSD and some of the woundedness that our soldiers do return with,” she said.
Where to begin? I’m no psychologist, no doctor, no political pundit, so I’ll just say what’s on my mind here.
She implies Track Palin suffers from PTSD – did she ask him before she made this information known to the entire world? Has he even been diagnosed with PTSD to begin with, or is it just an assumption?
Because after all, we all come back “a bit different”, “hardened”, right?
A bit separate. A bit suspect. A bit damaged.
Stripping out the political attack, just looking at the quotes relating to veterans and PTSD above and the context in which they were made, just what was Sarah Palin trying to say? That somehow Track Palin being a veteran, allegedly with PTSD, explained away what happened the day before? That this sort of thing is to be expected of veterans?
This isn’t the first time veterans and PTSD have been raised in the context of violence. Possibly the most visible linkage to date is this:
If I understand this, this [amendment] adds an exemption of retired military. As I understand our bill, no issue has arose [sic] in this regard during the ten years the expired ban was in effect and what we did in the other bill was exempt possession by the United States or a department or agency of the United States. So that included active military. The problem with expanding this is that, you know, with the advent of PTSD, which I think is a new phenomenon as a product of the Iraq War, it’s not clear how the seller or transferrer of a firearm covered by this bill would verify that an individual was a member, or a veteran, and that there was no impairment of that individual with respect to having a weapon like this. So, you know, I would be happy to sit down with you again and see if we could work something out but I think we have to — if you’re going to do this, find a way that veterans who are incapacitated for one reason or another mentally don’t have access to this kind of weapon.
Senator Feinstein got a lot of grief for these remarks, made in response to moves to expand exemptions to the 2013 Assault Weapons Ban to members of the military. A lot of that criticism was based on wild misquoting of the original remarks, but like most exaggerations they’re on what was said, as you can see above.
The basic implications of the quote were that veterans, particularly those with PTSD, are somehow inherently dangerous, mentally unstable, untrustworthy.
Add to this the perception that veterans with PTSD are violent, particularly on the homefront, and it’s a stigma that is both unfounded and unfair being applied.
If anything, statistically speaking veterans are more likely to harm themselves than anyone else, family or strangers.
From 1999-2010, the suicide rate in the US population among males was 19.4 per 100,000, compared to 4.9 per 100,000 in females.
Based on the most recent data available, in fiscal year 2009, the suicide rate among male Veteran VA users was 38.3 per 100,000, compared to 12.8 per 100,000 in females.
The Relationship Between PTSD and Suicide http://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/co-occurring/ptsd-suicide.asp
Sarah Palin might have thought she was pandering to Trump supporters by using this for political aims, but in doing so she has also pandered to that segment of society that views veterans as damaged, dangerous, unstable, unbalanced. In implying PTSD is responsible for his alleged actions the day before, she has confirmed the beliefs of that segment of society that fears veterans. After all, “Sarah Palin herself admitted there’s a link, right?”
This hurts veterans across the board
The innuendo undoes the hard work of veterans and service organizations for many years in debunking that stereotype she invoked in Tulsa. Given the issues surrounding the VA, and mental health in the US in recent times, she risks reinforcing the view of veterans as unstable, even violent, dangers to themselves or others as an entire community. Throwing the treatment of veterans and PTSD out there might be as red meat to her audience, but like tracer rounds the comments work both ways.
Yes, we come back from war a little bit different, hardened. And many of us return with PTSD. But now all of us will get a sideways glance, that defensiveness, that wonder if we’re going to snap, beat up a loved one, pull out a rifle and try to commit suicide, because apparently PTSD made Track Palin do it, and that’s the price of freedom – in Sarah Palin’s world.
Track Palin might be the biggest casualty – now he has to deal with the stigma attached to PTSD, thrown under the bus as part of a political speech.
So let me know what you think of her remarks, and if they hurt or help efforts to educate the public about the truth behind veterans with PTSD in the comments below.