YOU SEE US ALL THE TIME |
January 17, 2012
Name: Jason Payne
Returned from: Iraq and Afghanistan
Hometown: Irvine, CA
Recent media reports covering violent tragedies committed by veterans have both alarmed and motivated me to take action. As a Veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), I became very concerned when I learned the murder of a National Park Ranger at Mount Rainer National Park was committed by an OIF Veteran who potentially suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). My concern was not just for the Park Ranger’s family and colleagues, but for the potential of the over 2.4 million OIF/OEF Veterans being stigmatized as violent psychopaths because of the flawed choice of one single person. Instead of media reports highlighting how vets were drawing personal closure from the war, in quiet reflection or shared pride or both, the bad press for veterans just kept getting worse.
A U.S. Army Green Beret who just returned from Afghanistan was recently arrested at Midland-Odessa Airport in Texas after two bricks of C-4 explosive were found inside his carryon bag at the security screening checkpoint. In Ogden, Utah, an Iraq veteran was arrested after a team of law enforcement officers came to his residence to serve a search warrant for drug possession. By the time the vet was in custody, five officers had been shot and another was dead. Again, these are only three recent nationally covered news stories that in some ways understandably put all veterans in a bad light.
I implore the entire veteran community to take action with every opportunity they are given to show our communities and our country we are a strong and determined group of men and women, who reflect a wide cross section of our nation’s population.
I’m not a psychologist, but I can say the following with certainty:
Although it is widely accepted that every veteran is changed by their service in a conflict, not all veterans have PTSD. Additionally, not all veterans who have PTSD are going to act out violently.
Therefore, again, it is crucial that the veteran community seizes this negative publicity and turns it into an opportunity to demonstrate with collective action that we are a trustworthy and stable group of people. A group of people who know how to cope with our feelings about the war in constructive ways, and that we have learned to roll with the punches of life.
For example, a 20-something friend of mine whom I’ll call Sammy served a tour in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. During Sammy’s post-deployment from Afghanistan, he was diagnosed with PTSD and consequently separated from the Army. Sammy told me he was diagnosed after only one visit to the Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center, and was never examined for PTSD by a military physician or psychologist. However, having kept in touch with Sammy, I know he has been having a tough time adjusting to civilian life. Sammy seems okay for now, he has a good support system of family and friends and he has access to mental health resources, but he is very adamant that he would not resort to violence as a coping mechanism. He knows he has a long road ahead and he seems to be taking it one arduous step at a time.
Another example is my friend Brian, a 30-something Air Force Reserve veteran who served on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. During his last deployment, Brian breathed a sigh of relief when he missed being laid off from the city he was employed at back home, only to eventually get laid off a year later during another round of layoffs. Despite having to short-sell his house and the loss of his primary form of income, he took the challenge as an opportunity to better himself and successfully enrolled in law school.
There are other colleagues and friends; Brad, a career Airman who served twice in the early stages of OIF and recently returned from Afghanistan. Despite being divorced after his first deployment and the recent death of his battle buddy who he served two tours in Iraq with, Brad still has a strong sense of duty driving him which can’t be broken.
My friend Mike who served in Iraq couldn’t pass the psychological screening to become a police officer. He almost gave up his dream only to realize there was nothing else he wanted to do more than serve his community as a police officer. He didn’t give up. He allowed himself an appropriate amount of time to heal from his service in Iraq and sort out his life. He now serves as an officer for a large municipal police department in the Midwest.
Finally, a Marine OIF Veteran named Jordan, who I met through a veterans organization, told me he got involved in several community service programs to help veterans of all generations as his way of coping with his service in the war.
They all serve as examples of what veterans are: strong, tenacious and determined mission-oriented people who don’t quit when things aren’t going their way.
I would like to close by reminding my fellow military veterans we are our brother’s keeper. Reach out to fellow vets in your community to remind each other that if you need help, you’re not alone. I also want to remind American society that vets come from all different walks of life, men and women of different shapes, sizes and colors. You see us all the time, and might not even know it. But we’re there, driving fire trucks and ambulances, teaching kids in public schools, volunteering in our communities, running small businesses and leading people in large corporations. Please, give us a chance before you categorize us all. We deserve better than what the recent news coverage would have you believe.
Jason Payne, a 34-year old US Air Force Veteran, lives with his wife and kids in the San Francisco Bay Area. Jason served one tour in Baghdad, Iraq in 2005 and one tour in Khost Province, Afghanistan in 2010. He now serves as a federal civil servant in San Joaquin County, California and is a spokesperson for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.