PTSD, Non-Stories, and the Hyperbole of Veteran Deification

Updated: March 11, 2015


By RU Twisted

A woman who worked as a therapist at a VA clinic was found to have been sharing images that implied making light of Veteran suicides. The pictures included various depictions of an elf (it was Christmas time) “self-medicating” and in “suicidal behavior” acts that were sent via email.

Are you mad? Are you furious and enraged?

Well I’m….not. Point of fact I’m kinda torn.

On the one hand, these pics were incredibly disrespectful and in very poor taste. Of that there is little doubt.

On the other, however, I consider the realities of how health care professionals at every level of practiced medicine engage in what many would deem “dark humor.” Jokes while patients are under anesthesia are far more common than most realize and, were they brought to light, people would most likely be appalled.

But this is simply a coping mechanism. When human beings see other human beings torn apart or cut up and invaded on a regular basis, they develop methods for dealing with what they see. Humor that reflects this would almost assuredly be misunderstood by anyone outside that particular industry.

timebombSoldiers and Marines are all too familiar with this same mentality. Hell, we even have a shirt that fits in the category of dark humor.

We have all found ourselves making crude jokes that, were they uttered in any other circumstance, would be seen as vile and worthy of public shaming. Yet they make sense in that context and to the people involved.

Remember that scene in Full Metal Jacket?

“How can you shoot women or children?”

“It’s easy. You just don’t lead ‘em so much! Ain’t war hell?”

Outside of the military, that’s pretty fucked up. But you know you laughed, and all of you OEF/OIF vets know that you’ve either said or heard from the mouths of your friends some very similar comments, even if none of you would ever engage in the actual behavior mentioned.

Does that justify them and give dark humor a general blessing? No, but it makes it easy to see how and why talk like that is used. Firefighters, cops, paramedics, and various other professions all see very similar language on a regular basis. It’s a way to deal with the stress of human suffering.

Make no mistake—I am not attempting to draw a direct correlation here. Counseling those who suffer mental trauma is not the same as being directly part of said trauma. I’m simply offering some perspective to consider in light of what happened after this story came out.

A while back, a “pin up for veterans”-type model friended me on Facebook because of my writing here. She works to promote a lot of veteran-related charities, but mostly from her feed I see pictures of her doing the showing-skin thing.

Yesterday, she posted a petition to get the person who sent those emails fired for doing so. I offered a similar (if albeit shorter) response to what I just wrote here, trying to give perspective and saying that no one at The Den was all that excited about attacking this woman.

Was this met with a well-reasoned response, prompting me to rethink my ambivalence? Well, not exactly, no. It was closer to “how dare you!” followed by a deletion and ban.

Okey dokey, then.

Here’s the thing. That kind of a response is part of a much bigger problem, and one that needs to be addressed, as I feel it is only getting worse.

Veterans are not gods. We are not special, delicate flowers that deserve or warrant treatment unlike the whole of society. We volunteered to serve.

volunteerLet me repeat that—we volunteered to serve.

That means we are not—or at least shouldn’t be—deified and held up as being above the rest of society. I fully realize that this stands in opposition to how many people feel and act, but where is the line drawn?

Consider this story we ran 2 ½ years ago. A woman takes douchey photos at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We called her a douchebag for it and she was subsequently fired for her douchebaggery.

A win for the good guys, right? Well, sort of. It’s one thing to get a person fired for doing stupid stuff—there should probably be a whole lot more of that.

It is another thing entirely for someone to continue to get death and rape threat for years after the fact. Even after being fired.

What the fuck?

Again, what she did was both incredibly stupid and disrespectful. But death and rape threats? I think she could have set fire to an entire truck-load of bibles and not faced that kind of hatred.

My point is simply that overreacting ends up causing as many (or possibly more) problems than the initial issue. In Lindsey Stone’s case, she definitely deserved to be fired, given what it was she was representing.

In the case of the VA emails, I’d say she probably deserves to be fired, as well, but I would also argue that there are serious issues at the VA that go waaaayyyyy beyond this. Shouldn’t we be focusing on the bigger problems first?

As someone who has written extensively on the subject of veteran suicides, no one can claim that I do not take these matters very seriously. Along with every other member of the Rhino Den team, I want to tackle this subject head-on and not pull any punches.

Part of that approach means not just addressing real problems, but also keeping a cool head on stories that distract from the real issues. If we get caught up in slinging mud at every single instance of disrespect—perceived or real—then the criticisms of actual crises will fall on deaf ears.

Again, the woman who emailed pictures of an elf asking for Xanax acted disrespectfully and inappropriately. But was it worthy of a response that would be completely different than what we would give to the thousands of doctors, nurses, and health care professionals who engage in “behind the scenes” dark humor?

I don’t think so, but maybe I’m just tired of over-the-top hyperbole regarding everything related to stories like this one. I could be wrong—it’s happened before.




  1. Mark Daemon

    March 11, 2015 at 7:04 am

    Well-written and spot on. This is why I enjoy reading The Rhino Den. Ideally, you do not stop serving your nation once the uniform comes off… and that means that your behavior continues to reflect on yourself, your branch and those brothers in arms that you served with. Being rough around the edges, using blunt and sometimes harsh words and being proud of your nation is expected… but you also have to be in control of yourself and behave in a manner that is consistent with the law and appropriate social expectations (sometimes bent a little because we are Americans and rule breakers by nature). I couldn’t agree more with what is being said in the article.

  2. Joe

    March 11, 2015 at 2:57 pm

    You speak the truth. One needs to not only look at what was said, but how it was said and who was the intended audience. Much of the subtext is lost when simply looking at a quote.

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