The Fort Hood Shooter’s Hunger Strike

~Full Court Press

By COL (Dr.) Kathy Platoni
April 6, 2017 

Nearly 8 years have passed since the Fort Hood Massacre. The victims have been long forgotten; the voices of the families of the fallen, the wounded, and the survivors left to tell the truths have long been silenced. The facts surrounding the largest massacre on any military installation in US history remain buried in an unmarked grave, along with the terrible truths that have yet to come to the fore: that eight civilian and high ranking military officers knew that the shooter, former Major Nidal Hasan, was a ticking bomb who had promised to do lethal harm to those who would dare to send him to war. The toll of the systematic assassinations and those left to carry the burden of unmatched survivor guilt continues to rise. Furthermore, there have been six suicides among the survivors. Four have been confirmed.

Live from his cell on death row at the Disciplinary Barracks, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, the shooter has announced by handwritten letter, dated March 27th 2017, that he is planning a 99-pound hunger strike in order to trim down and maintain this body weight. Thirteen (13) of my fellow Soldiers lost their lives so that the shooter could give rise to deadly political statements in support of his extremist platforms, injuring 33 more of them so that his message would stick in the hearts and minds of those who carry the indelible and terrible physical and psychological scars in what remains considered, to this very day, an act of workplace violence and not an act of domestic terrorism. What does screaming “Allahu Akbar” before opening fire with the lethal force of 214 rounds fired mean to those who retain any degree of sanity and reason? This has left the bitter taste of one of the greatest travesties of justice ever to make the news repeatedly and yet the press insists on reporting that the shooter is going on a diet.

What further offends those of us left to report the bona fide truth is that this self-serving soldier of Allah continues to receive free reign to defecate on the lives of the wounded, the families of the fallen, and the survivors with his unceasing demands to be heard and to promote his cause as a soldier of Allah. Who is here to speak for the victims, long ago muzzled?  That he is uninterruptedly permitted to have any say on any subject is, in itself, both a charade and a mockery of any justice yet to be granted to those who carry with them the fallout from the enormous human tragedy of this long-forgotten massacre.  That we remember the name of the assassin and have expunged and disregarded the names of the victims only serves to promote his cause into perpetuity and to immortalize his brand of domestic terrorism at the expense of so many suffering souls. That the shooter is given free reign, once again, to commit yet another heinous offense against the victims of the Fort Hood Massacre is treasonous.

Why Veteran Suicide?

By COL (Dr.) Kathy Platoni
April 1, 2017 

It is the frayed and demolished life to which many Veterans return to in rocket velocity, without any opportunity to transition or de-escalate from combat to the comparative lavishness of civilian life, that often shatters their once firm foundation and sends Service Members into a rapid downward spiral.

For far too many returning Veterans, disembarking on American soil often makes eating the barrel of one’s weapon seem to be the preferable next meal.

The sobering nature of the issue is far too profound to be quantified. Whether in the wartime theater or the home front, wounds that do not bleed can still be ripped open, allowing spillage of immeasurable anguish and despair. It is the suffocating hopelessness and promises of only more of the same, the damnation of infinite burdens that can no longer be shaken off, and time and time again, coming face to face with the inevitability of one’s own demise, that makes it easy to find the belt or the barrel that will lead to desperately desired relief (Carlson, Task and Purpose, 2016). Accepting this offers the ease of sanctions that can readily lead to a simple squeeze of the trigger; “a flight from a world that just doesn’t care” and reprieve from an ugliness that cannot be put into words (Carlson, 2016).

For those of us who have ever worn the uniform, we have all been there and yearned to taste gun metal.

When there are more losses to post-war suicide than in combat, we have a serious problem on our hands. We are a long way from grasping the bona fide burdens of war that Veterans carry home. Enduring and suffering the plain awful experience of readjustment to civilian life, shackled by continuous back to back deployments, and further complicated by the 99 percent of the American populace that just “doesn’t get us,” makes for a new kind of isolated hell from everything that not so long before delivered tremendous value, meaning, and purpose to our lives.

We are ignored, misunderstood, alienated, and banished from the kingdom of life on the home front and a country that sent us off to war and forgot us when we came home from war,” says Parnell. In short, “we don’t have a policy shortfall, but a cultural shortfall.” This is hardly a recipe for the genuine cohesion and camaraderie that sustained us in war, but instead, one of desolation and alienation from a society pretends to welcome us with open arms, but remains largely untouched by war and its aftereffects.

Being hurled back into this reality sends us running for cover from a homeland that rejects us, forcing us to bear the true costs of war entirely alone.

Researchers who interviewed 72 Soldiers at Fort Carson, CO, found that among the 33 reasons given for their suicide attempts, the one that stood out among all the others was the overwhelming desire to stop the pain of intense emotional distress.  According to now-retired Army COL Carl Castro, the desire to harm oneself is only secondary to the longing for the anguish and despair to stop, from which there seems to be no exit or escape.

The study also revealed that Soldiers typically listed an average of ten reasons for contemplating or attempting suicide, which clearly demonstrates the highly complex nature of the problem at hand. Additional commonplace reasons given by Soldiers studied include feeling compelled to put an end to “chronic sadness,” finding the means to escape people, presumably those who fail to understand such desperation, and using suicide as the pathway to express such utter despondency, says Gregg Zoroya of USA TODAY.

The veil of purposeless and loss of camaraderie, the absence of belongingness, often lead to the confiscation of all things meaningful. The harshest consequences of war often come afterward. We, as a culture, continue to tone down the collateral damages of war (Senior, 2011) and the fact that we “may be more dangerous to ourselves than the enemy.” What sustained us in war has been torn away, leaving behind an amputated spirit and a life devoid of significance, usefulness, worth, or purpose.

There is no good place for one’s head to rest. Darkness is the only color so many of us come to know.

The collateral damage of war is that it embezzles your entire life as you knew it. There is no old self-hanging in the closet.  Truthfully, there are too many of us who just want to make it stop… the anger, the unceasing threat level and the assurance that everyone around us is trying to hurt us, which is often not just supposition, and the overpowering desire to feel so alive just one more time.

Deficiencies in Care for US Veterans

By COL (Dr.) Kathy Platoni
February 7, 2017

Recently, significant numbers of older Veterans (those over the age of 50) are taking their lives by suicide, yet they receive the least attention. Several of us who are well over the age of 50 have also deployed multiple times to the combat theater of operations since 2001. Sadly, Korean, Vietnam, and Gulf War Veterans are very often overlooked with respect to mental health and VA legislation, as if they already fail to exist, providing only for service entitlements for Iraq and Afghanistan war Veterans.

This is far more than a pathetic oversight. Hordes of Vietnam Veterans, unwelcomed, assaulted, abused upon their return, pelted with feces and other bodily fluids at airports from coast to coast, and frequently referred to as just crazy old homeless fools that live under the overpass, are those often most desperately in need of medical and mental health services.

The percentages of Vietnam Veterans suffering from post-war PTSD is estimated to be at 30 percent, as opposed to the 20 percent figure granted to Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom Veterans. Both estimates are likely to be very seriously submerged, as many of these Veterans never interface with the system charged with service provision for them or seek intervention; oftentimes because they are unaware it exists or they avoid mental health and medical services through the VA at all costs.

The numbers of suicides in this age group is twice that for those 50 and older among their non-veteran counterparts. This is due in part to the stigma of obtaining mental health services so desperately needed, which continues to be an obstacle of a momentous magnitude. Add to this, as with the aging population in general, deteriorating health, the onset of chronic and intractable pain as a result of war injuries and any number of other progressive medical conditions, the increasing loss of mobility, as well as the rising numbers of losses all of us experience with the passage of years, and we have a formula for loneliness, abandonment, and further isolation, says Jordain Carney of National Journal.

As a nation, our stunted attention span allows us to quickly forget the sacrifices made by all war Veterans and to ignore a problem of such enormity, that is unlikely to change for Iraq and Afghanistan war Veterans over time. They will ultimately inherit the very same problems.

As far back as 2001 when our nation began to gear up for the Global War on Terrorism, the VA should have known better than not to do the same. The failures of the system are incalculable and infinite, the stuff of enormous numbers of investigative reports. This is not fake news: the VA has failed to track veterans upon their departure from the military and there is no system in place to make this happen to the best of my knowledge. In fact, it is standard operating procedure and commonplace for military personnel not to receive information about the multiplicity of VA services for which they are entitled decades after leaving military service.

This is a problem that cannot be resolved simply by increasing VA funding and programming or by hiring 9000 more mental health professionals, many of whom have never served in the military themselves. The problems inherent in VA care too often involve a problem of access to it, but this is only a minuscule part the problem.

In my experience and in that of the Veterans I treat, there is also a huge disconnect between care provided by those who have served and those who have never worn the uniform. Primary among them is the absence of trust in those who have never served and a rapport that can never be established for that very reason. There is little basis for trust in providers whose experience does not include marching through the same trenches. If one has never been to war, there can be no understanding of the experiences and burdens that Veterans carry home; it is just that simple.

Understanding Veteran Suicides

By COL (Dr.) Kathy Platoni
February 7, 2017

Interestingly enough, a considerable body of recent research has indicated that within the armed forces, there is no clear or direct correlation between completed suicides and deployment. However, the 2016 Department of Defense Quarterly Suicide Report maintains that deployment overseas to the wartime theater is an extremely stressful and life-altering experience that disrupts the fabric of the family and the existing “social and interpersonal structure” of the Service Member’s life. The DOD correlates suicide with the “interplay of feelings of belongingness,” which can be affected by deployment.

According to the DOD, suicide risk factors are those associated with the increased potential for suicide attempts and successful suicides in the civilian, include major life transitions, and deployment is one. Alan Zarembo of LA Times writes that, while the trauma of deployment is obvious, we know that the problem exceeds and extends past the trauma of war–thus the Epidemic of Veteran Suicides.

The wartime theater demands some, if not an enormous degree of interpersonal support for psychological survival. Recent research suggests that the support and kinship of Service Members and their convergence during overseas wartime deployments constitute a protective factor, something that mitigates suicide risk.  However, environmental differences between the various branches of the Armed Forces may dictate the provision of varying degrees of interpersonal support, often dependent upon factors such as geography, location, mission, and remoteness of assignments in the wartime theater. Furthermore, this may be dependent on the types and intensity of combat exposure, which is also likely to impact the acquired capability.

In order to decrease the likelihood of suicide, the 2016 DOD Quarterly Suicide Report recommends “unit level and community support and training interventions that increase protective factors within the culture of the military.” Unfortunately, as the data reveals, the DOD has fallen far short of this goal. Suicide prevention training is frequently perceived as a compulsory check-the-box class that generates just enough interest to put attendees to sleep. Beating the problem to death with power point presentations offers no cure for a problem of such immense proportions. Asking Soldiers to care about other Soldiers when leadership failures demonstrate otherwise, serves only to aggravate the existing problem of falling down the rabbit hole of isolation and desolation for those who believe themselves to be a terrible burden to everyone and every aspect of the world that surrounds them.

By Petty Officer 1st Class Adam Eggers ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Petty Officer 1st Class Adam Eggers ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Myth of 22 Veteran Suicides Per Day

By COL (Dr.) Kathy Platoni
January 31, 2017

The VA’s 2012 Suicide Date Report estimates twenty-two Veteran suicides a day. This is a misnomer and a widely misunderstood calculation, says Stacy Bare. This figure has rallied a nationwide movement and electrified the devotee mantra of promoting the performance of 22 pushups a day, and setting in motion hype of titanic proportions among media outlets and politicians. This has all come about at the expense of a highly inaccurate and misinterpreted context and the genuine problem of epidemic proportions that lies at the root of veteran suicides.

In the words of VA Secretary Shulkin, one Veteran suicide is already far too many. Shockingly, Veteran suicides have exceeded those killed in action in the combat theater for an extended period of time. This is a national tragedy of colossal proportions.

In 2012, it was the Veterans Administration that estimated that 22 veterans took their lives per day, but this data was extrapolated from records collected from only 21 states from 1999 to 2011.  This constituted only a small sample of states providing data and “evidence of uncertainty in Veteran identifiers on US death certificates,” says Bare. Additionally, data from four larger states (California, Texas, Arizona, and North Carolina) was not even included in these calculations, reports Patricia Kime. This suggests the need to interpret this data with considerable caution.

A survey of 1.3 million Veterans discharged from the military between 2001 and 2007 disclosed that 1650 Veterans died in the line of duty between 2001 and 2009, as compared to 7703 non-deployed Veteran deaths during the same time frame. Among these were 351 deaths by suicide within the population of deployed Veterans and 1517 suicides among non-deployed Veterans (Bare, 2015). In undertaking the math, this equals less than one Veteran death per day during a nine-year time period.

To be continued…