Friday, February 13, 2015

"American Sniper Trial" Misses the Mark

I'm going to take my life in my own hands, as is usually the case these days...

I have some things to say about the "American Sniper Trial."  Let's go ahead and get the preconceived notions out of the way--I am NOT anti-gun.  I am NOT anti-war.  I am NOT anti-military.  I am NOT anti-justice.

I grew up in a hunting family, with military members I am proud of and have prayed through deployments, and I also grew up with law enforcement officers a part of my family.  I have family members and friends who carry guns.  I have a cousin who has been a successful and well-known federal defense attorney. I have friends who have served Dallas County as prosecutors in the DA's office. I am not against any of these things.

Now, let me tell you about what I AM FOR.

I believe that Eddie Routh must be held accountable for taking 2 lives and the wake of tragedy their deaths leave behind.

First, I am for Naming.
This trial is NOT the American Sniper trial.  This is not the trial of a man who killed Chris Kyle.  This is the trial of a man charged with shooting TWO men:  Chris Kyle AND Chad Littlefield.  For the love of all that is holy, do not forget this 2nd victim.  Chad's family needs justice, acknowledgement, and they also need to hear his name said aloud--by the media, by the wannabe commentators on every form of social media who have an opinion, and the bloggers, etc.

I would imagine that for Chad Littlefield's family, the media coverage of this trial is difficult, and not just because they are having to relive his death and their grief. Chad's family is not hearing his name enough. This is not about Chris Kyle, although that is primarily who we are hearing about and how the coverage is being named.  This is about Chad Littlefield. Let's not leave him and his family out of the naming, the coverage, and the discussions.

No matter who it is or what the circumstances are surrounding a death, for the loved ones left behind, they NEED to hear the name of their loved one.  It is for this reason, I say, "Denae" to my dear friend, Janabeth.  I say, "Sarah," for my lifelong friend, Marlo.  I say, "Lynn" and "Connie." No one should be forgotten. No name should be left unspoken.

So, instead of throwing something at the television every time I hear and see "American Sniper Trial" and "Chris Kyle" (without the mention of Chad Littlefield), I will say, "Chad."  My stand in my own little world.

Second, I am for Honest Reporting
I don't know how much more reporting I can stand on this trial and this is still just the beginning. Living in Texas, just down the road from Midlothian and Stephenville, we are getting it on both the local and national newscasts. Overload of errors. Uninformed and inflammatory media reports do NOTHING except to further misinformation, continue the stigma, and fire people up--over wrong information and the wrong issues.

Two issues in particular are not being addressed correctly in current reports.  First, is related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD.  Numerous reports state that Routh cannot have PTSD, because he did not see any action while deployed in Iraq.  While we hear about PTSD mostly in conversation about military officers and the horror they have been through, PTSD is NOT an exclusive condition to our soldiers.  It is also NOT a disorder that only affects those who have been in combat.

PTSD is the resulting damage to the brain's response system from the body's reaction to a traumatic stress--this could be combat, a car wreck, a natural disaster, a very tragic loss, or finding your 12 year old child barely clinging to life after a suicide attempt.  Yes, PTSD can happen to any of us.  Yours truly can attest to that.  Whether or not Routh saw combat, he can still have and be fully affected by PTSD.  His mental health records are not available to the general public, though I am sure there will likely be a point at which they are made public in the trial.  Until that time, no one commenting on his condition or state of mind really has all of the information necessary to do so.

Here are some basic facts on PTSD from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the nation's largest grass roots organization for mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.  This is an organization I support, advocate with and for, and serve on area committees and assist with presentations.;

The symptoms of PTSD fall into the following categories.
  • Intrusive Memories, which can include flashbacks of reliving the moment of trauma, bad dreams and scary thoughts.
  • Avoidance, which can include staying away from certain places or objects that are reminders of the traumatic event. A person may also feel numb, guilty, worried or depressed or having trouble remembering the traumatic event.
  • Dissociation, which can include out-of-body experiences or feeling that the world is "not real" (derealization).
  • Hypervigilance, which can include being startled very easily, feeling tense, trouble sleeping or outbursts of anger.
PTSD affects 3.5% of the U.S. adult population—about 7.7 million Americans—but women are more likely to develop the condition than men. About 37% of those cases are classified as severe. While PTSD can occur at any age, the average age of onset is in a person’s early 20s. 

I also heard a reporter/former prosecutor on a national news program comment earlier this week about how this alleged murderer could not have PTSD and that he used drugs and alcohol--and that drugs and alcohol are the real issue.  For the record, the majority of individuals who are afflicted with a mental illness turn to drugs and alcohol in an effort to self-medicate and end up with addiction issues IF their psychological needs and health are not being addressed.  Individuals receiving appropriate health have NO NEED to self-medicate with unlawful substances.

Again, information from NAMI's website--information readily available for anyone searching:

Symptoms of PTSD usually begin within 3 months after a traumatic event, but occasionally emerge years afterward. Symptoms must last more than a month to be considered PTSD. PTSD is often accompanied by depression, substance abuse or another anxiety disorder.


Having PTSD or other mental illnesses does not mean, include, or indicate that the affected individual is insane or psychotic.  So, while there is definitely a documented biological component at play, this does not mean that individuals committing a crime should not be held accountable.  However, there are better ways to address it before there is an issue, which leads me to my 3rd and 4th positions...

Third, I am for Best Practices.
Best practices means treatment that is shown in viable research studies to be most effective to treat a particular condition.  In this post, I am referring to conditions of the brain; biological conditions & changes in the brain of affected individuals and documented by medical professionals.  While I agree that Routh must be held accountable for his actions, I maintain that his punishment should include components to address any mental health conditions he is determined to battle.

Following are best practices according to NAMI. (Because why invent a wheel that has already been fully covered.)  In most cases, a combination of these approaches work best based on each individual case.

PTSD is treated and managed in several ways.
  • Medications, including mood stabilizers, antipsychotic medications and antidepressants.
  • Psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy or group therapy.
  • Self-management strategies, such as "self-soothing". Many therapy techniques, including mindfulness, are helpful to ground a person and bring her back to reality after a dissociative episode or a flashback.
  • Service animals, especially dogs, can help soothe some of the symptoms of PTSD.
Though PTSD cannot be cured, it can be treated effectively.

Fourth and final, I am for Prevention.

Did you know that 22 veterans per day commit suicide? 
As a result of PTSD, Depression, and Traumatic Brain Injury

Right now, stateside, in our country.  
This is a statistic that SHOULD NOT BE.  

The tragic statistic above doesn't even begin to cover those struggling through each day who keep getting up. We owe our military members and their families better than this.  We owe them health, help, training, services, and whatever it takes to help them address what they've experienced, and to transition back to life, employment, and healthy relationships.  Why is it we wait until there is a tragedy such as the deaths of Chris Kyle and Chad Littlefield to address this as a nation, a system, and an administration?

Prevention is key.  Key for noticing warning signs, finding appropriate help, and not taking unnecessary and hazardous risks.  If Routh had received the help he needed, the deaths of Chad Littlefield and Chris Kyle would have not occurred.  If there had been help when Routh's family asked for it, Chris and Chad would still be carrying on the work of helping veterans.  If Chad and Chris had been trained and educated on the warning signs, treatment recommendations, and resources available, they would not have made this fateful trip with an unstable individual.  If they had listened to their gut feelings, which we've heard in testimony this week through their text conversations, they would have never put a gun in this man's hand.  There may be men and women for whom shooting guns at a firing range helps as was indicated in the movie.  However, this not a best practice for many, many individuals--military or not.  Please know I am NOT blaming Chad or Chris for their own deaths.  I do maintain they might have made different decisions based on facts should that knowledge have been readily available to them.

These 2 deaths were preventable.  These 2 men should be celebrating Valentine's Day tomorrow with their loved ones.  With the education available today, we should not be watching this trial or the uneducated, bias-producing media on television and online.  Eddie Routh should be learning to live each day with the help of medication, professionals, and support, whether in hospitalization/treatment or in outpatient settings.

And I know that the VA system is seriously broken. I won't even get into all of that in this post. Again, I say, this should not be.  The rest of us should be standing up, speaking, and demanding that this be addressed.  Our military deserve so much more and so much better.

I am happy to relay to you that President Obama signed an act into being yesterday after passing both houses of Congress unanimously, after it had been held up for a while by one senator.  The Clay Hunt SAV Act honors a soldier who served well, both abroad and at home. This law is to provide necessary reforms, accountability and community mental health access for service members and veterans. I will be watching its implementation, and I hope you will, too.

Say, "Chris."  Say, "Chad."  
Not on my watch.  

Because I NEVER want to leave you with information, but without any practical help, I am listing below immediate resources if you are concerned about a friend or family member--or if you are struggling yourself.   No matter if you have a diagnosis or not, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

ADAPT Mobile Crisis Line:  (866)260-8000
National Suicide Prevention Line:  1-800-273-TALK (8255)
NAMI Helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI
MilitaryOneSource:  1-800-342-9647
US Department of Defense Coaching & Support @ In Transition: 1-800-424-7877

No comments:

Post a Comment