Once again we experienced another violent horror in our country. Esteban Santiago, a 26-year-old veteran, shot and killed 5 individuals and wounded 6 others in the Fort Lauderdale Airport.
What do these violent random incidences tell us about mental illness?
If we’re paying attention, why aren’t we better at precluding violent attacks like these?
Our hearts go out to the families of the victims, as once again we all “feel” the lack of safety in public places that seems to be an escalating reality in America.
You may recall in several past posts how I have identified shootings like these as stemming from trauma.
I don’t believe these kinds of shootings are due to terrorist affiliations, but more to significant cases of mental illness.
Though I am grateful we are taking measures to protect our country from terrorism, I think we also need to bring the same vigilance to our country regarding Americans who clearly evidence signs of high risk mental illness. Because of their illness, they are at primary risk for violence and this kind of destruction.
Santiago, had been showing some serious signs of violence against his girlfriend. He also stated he was hearing voices. Further, his family said that after he returned from Iraq, he was a different individual and never regained his sense of self. He had been recently discharged because he could not perform his duties.
The man had even appealed for help but was only given four days of care before release.
His mental health was not a hidden issue for him or for his family.
Clearly, some disturbing issues had developed in Iraq. The violence he witnessed had a huge effect on him. He had all the signs of PTSD, but must not have been screened adequately nor given the help he desperately needed.
If this happens in this one case, how often is it happening all over our country?
Many of our veterans who return from war have experienced some trauma which can haunt them long after the war experiences are over. In fact, some never recover. I recognize that some individuals can cope on their own, but in many cases this is not possible.
So what should we do?
It seems to me, we ought to take these issues seriously, offer those in need long-term counseling and support as they learn to cope with their wartime imprints.
Those individuals who are subject to psychological deficits and vulnerable to their misperceptions of reality have the capacity to create violence such as we have seen in Fort Lauderdale.
I believe every veteran should have a complete psychological screening before reentering their normal lives. If we value them and their service, we will be understanding of the neuro-scientific indicators of PTSD and help them to find the appropriate treatment in order to heal, recover and rediscover a normal life.
These veterans are a different kind of war-casualty.
Rather than losing their lives, they lose some of their mental capabilities. This is why Esteban Santiago was struggling.
We need to prevent tragedies like the one which devastated him, his family, the families of the victims—and all Americans.
We all need to be aware of and provide for the needs of those who have fought for our country. We need to make sure they are protected from the mental wartime wounds that can have such destructive consequences.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network