After Thousand Oaks Mass Shooting, Experts Warn Against Linking PTSD With Violence

news
People gather to pray for the victims of the mass shooting during a candlelight vigil in Thousand Oaks, Calif., Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018.
Associated Press/Ringo H.W. Chiu

Mental health experts and veterans are cautioning the public about making assumptions about linking post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental illnesses to violence in the aftermath of the deadly mass shooting in which 13 lost their lives at a Thousand Oaks dance hall Wednesday night.


Ian David Long, the 28-year-old suspect from Newbury Park, served in the U.S. Marine Corps from August 2008 to March 2013, leaving at the rank of corporal.

He was a machine gunner in infantry combat and was deployed to Afghanistan from Nov. 16, 2010 to June 14, 2011, Marine Corps officials at the Pentagon said.

The alleged shooter’s neighbor told reporters Wednesday that Long suffered from PTSD, but that has yet to be confirmed.

The Veterans Administration in Washington D.C. said Wednesday that Long was never enrolled in their healthcare system.

Only about 25 percent of veterans who have PTSD access care through the VA, said Dr. Michael Hollifield, who heads the PTSD division at the VA in Long Beach, which handles about 50 consultations a month.

Predicting suicidal or homicidal behavior among those with PTSD can be extremely challenging, he said.

Long had been contacted by authorities in April during a disturbance call where he was “irate” and acting “irrationally.”

Mental health officials cleared him that day and did not place him on a psychiatric hold.

Hollifield said the law states a mental health professional must find an individual to be an “imminent danger” to himself and others in order to be deemed “acutely dangerous.”

“Most people who are evaluated on a one-time basis don’t fall into that category,” he said. “Episodes that create such volatility might be triggered by other factors such as substance abuse, agitation, and anxiety.”

Military PTSD

Monitoring active service members for mental health issues, including PTSD, is a relatively new initiative at the Marine Corps, said Retired USMC Col. Willy Buhl, who served as commanding officer of the Wounded Warrior Regiment at Quantico from 2012 to 2014.

Marines undergo a final physical evaluation before they leave the Marine Corps, but the extent of participation in that process depends on the individual, he said.

Those who are diagnosed with PTSD are sent to the Wounded Warrior Battalion for treatment, but only the most severe cases even get that far, Buhl said.

Once they undergo treatment and are discharged, these individuals are handed off to the Veterans Administration. It’s up to the VA to follow up with veterans regarding further services, he said.

“We don’t have enforcement once they leave the military; we can’t order them to see anyone.”

Misconceptions

The Wounded Warrior Regiment comprises a special group of coordinators tasked with keeping tabs on former Marines diagnosed with a physical or mental disability.

While their job is to follow up and make sure these veterans are doing well, they often find themselves in a “more reactive mode,” sometimes after a tragedy such as Wednesday’s mass shooting, Buhl said.

Linking a veteran’s PTSD to a mass shooting is a way of distracting the public from other real issues such as “holes in gun laws and addressing a culture that doesn’t promote gun safety,” said Chris Marvin, a retired combat-wounded Army Officer with Everytown for Gun Safety, a national nonprofit that advocates for gun safety laws.

“It’s just easy to say this must have happened because he was a mentally-ill veteran,” he said. “Also, tethering military service and PTSD to this heinous act doesn’t help other service members who want to seek assistance for mental health issues.”

Most people with PTSD, including combat veterans, are not violent, said Dr. Donovan Wong, medical director at Didi Hirsch Mental Services in Los Angeles.

“Another common misconception is that PTSD is only related to going to war or being in combat,” he said. “There are several different types of trauma that could cause this condition including car accidents, an act of violence or sexual assault.”

When it comes to mass shootings, people tend to look for one simple answer such as mental illness, Wong said.

“There are often many other complex issues at play including access to firearms,” he said.

Wong said Didi Hirsch’s Disaster Distress Help Line, 800-855-5990, is available for anyone who needs help coping with this tragedy.

———

©2018 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Joel Marrable (Laquna Ross via CNN)

Dawn Brys got an early taste of the crisis unfolding at the largest Veterans Affairs hospital in the Southeast.

The Air Force vet said she went to the Atlanta VA Medical Center in Decatur last year for surgery on a broken foot. But the doctor called it off because the surgical instruments hadn't been properly sterilized.

"The tools had condensation on them," recalled Brys, a 50-year-old Marietta resident. The doctor rescheduled it for the next day.

Now the 400-plus-bed hospital on Clairmont Road that serves about 120,000 military veterans is in a state of emergency. It suspended routine surgeries in late September after a string of incidents that exposed mismanagement and dangerous practices. It hopes to resume normal operations by early November as it struggles to retrain staff and hire new nurses.

The partial shutdown came about two weeks after Joel Marrable, a cancer patient in the same VA complex, was found covered with more than 100 ant bites by his daughter. Also in September, the hospital's canteen was temporarily closed for a pest investigation.

The mounting problems triggered a leadership shakeup Sept. 17, when regional director Leslie Wiggins was put on administrative leave. Dr. Arjay K. Dhawan, the regional medical director, was moved to administrative duties pending an investigation. Seven staff members were reassigned to non-patient care.

The only question for some military veterans and staff is why the VA waited so long. They say problems existed for years under Wiggins' leadership, but little was done.

Read More Show Less

The former Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs thinks that the VA needs to start researching medical marijuana. Not in a bit. Not soon. Right goddamn now.

Read More Show Less
Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney takes questions during a news briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., October 17, 2019. (Reuters/Leah Millis)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump's withholding of $391 million in military aid to Ukraine was linked to his request that the Ukrainians look into a claim — debunked as a conspiracy theory — about the 2016 U.S. election, a senior presidential aide said on Thursday, the first time the White House acknowledged such a connection.

Trump and administration officials had denied for weeks that they had demanded a "quid pro quo" - a Latin phrase meaning a favor for a favor - for delivering the U.S. aid, a key part of a controversy that has triggered an impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives against the Republican president.

But Mick Mulvaney, acting White House chief of staff, acknowledged in a briefing with reporters that the U.S. aid — already approved by Congress — was held up partly over Trump's concerns about a Democratic National Committee (DNC) computer server alleged to be in Ukraine.

"I have news for everybody: Get over it. There is going to be political influence in foreign policy," Mulvaney said.

Read More Show Less

CEYLANPINAR, Turkey (Reuters) - Shelling could be heard at the Syrian-Turkish border on Friday morning despite a five-day ceasefire agreed between Turkey and the United States, and Washington said the deal covered only a small part of the territory Ankara aims to seize.

Reuters journalists at the border heard machine-gun fire and shelling and saw smoke rising from the Syrian border battlefield city of Ras al Ain, although the sounds of fighting had subsided by mid-morning.

The truce, announced on Thursday by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence after talks in Ankara with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, sets out a five-day pause to let the Kurdish-led SDF militia withdraw from an area controlled by Turkish forces.

The SDF said air and artillery attacks continued to target its positions and civilian targets in Ral al Ain.

"Turkey is violating the ceasefire agreement by continuing to attack the town since last night," SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali tweeted.

The Kurdish-led administration in the area said Turkish truce violations in Ras al Ain had caused casualties, without giving details.

Read More Show Less

Boyfriends can sometimes do some really weird shit. Much of it is well-meaning: A boy I liked in high school once sang me a screamo song that he wrote over the phone. He thought it would be sweet, and while I appreciated that he wanted to share it with me, I also had no idea what he was saying. Ah, young love.

Sure, this sounds cringeworthy. But then there's 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker, who appears to be, dare I say, the best boyfriend?

Read More Show Less