Some veterans and mental health advocates bristled at President Trump's comments about gunman Thousand Oaks and post-traumatic stress disorder, saying such general remarks could fuel inaccurate stereotypes about the disease and Americans with served in combat.
Trump began speculating on PTSD on Friday morning when he was asked about the shooting, in which authorities said Navy veteran Ian David Long had fired on a country bar in Thousand Oaks. , California, and killed 12 people. Officers discovered Long in a bar office, dead from a gunshot wound that had been inflicted on them.
"He was a veteran. He was a sailor. He was at war. It served time. He saw some very bad things and a lot of people say that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress, and it's a tough deal, "said Trump after describing the shooter as a" very sick puppy "struggling with many problems.
"People come back, that's why it's a horrible thing, they come back, they're never the same," the president added, citing Long's military service.
For a long time, he was a gunner in the Marine Corps from 2008 to 2013 and deployed in Afghanistan, leaving the US Army as corporal.
It is not clear whether Long had officially diagnosed PTSD prior to his death or whether the president presumed that he was suffering from this condition related to his military service and to comments in the media by people familiar with the shooter .
Trump's rude remarks to the White House on Friday raised fears that the president will amplify stereotypes suggesting that PTSD is turning veterans into violent murderers and that all members of the armed forces are returning home damaged in combat.
"The comments of this type of our commander-in-chief are extremely useless," said Paul Rieckhoff, founder and chief executive of Iraq and Afghanistan's Veterans of America, in a statement. "They perpetuate a false and damaging story that veterans are broken and dangerous. Most people with PTSD, when they have access to effective treatment, can lead healthy, happy and meaningful lives. "
Rieckhoff said that when veterans with mental health problems hurt someone, it is probably themselves, not somebody else.
"Every day we lose 20 veterans and military service members to suicide," he said.
"The problem is not the phrasing: you go to war and you come back and you are not the same," it's true, you come back and you're no longer the same, "said Kayla M. Williams, a former army sergeant and senior member of the Center for New American Security. "What worries me is the idea that you come back more likely to be a mass shooter. This is not the case. "
Williams said veterans returning home after a fight had often changed: they were more likely to engage with their communities and their country. Even though there may be a correlation with PTSD and increased anger and aggression, it is unethical and dangerous to encourage Americans afraid of veterans because of their fighting experiences and suggests that they return home damaged.
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have dramatically increased the number of young Americans who have witnessed the fighting, reviving the stereotype of the damaged veteran, with PTSD becoming a well-known acronym for medical communities.
In recent years, mental health specialists and veterans groups have taken steps to eliminate the stigma of the disease and have shown that affected veterans do not suffer from time bombs, as suggested by stereotypes of the Vietnamese era.
"I think that in news stories, in fiction and on television, it's interesting and graphic to create an archetype, to create a particular portrait – and the idea of the crazy killer returning from the war has a certain resonance. That's not true, "said Frank Ochberg, clinical professor of psychiatry at Michigan State University.
Ochberg advocated renaming the condition PTSI – or post-traumatic stress injury – rather than describing it as a disorder. Some research has shown that people with PTSD have an increased risk of violence, but this applies to a large minority and veterans with this condition sometimes become lonely or have reduced appetites to take advantage of time with their family and friends.
"I think a president says: let us know before asserting our prejudices and assumptions and spreading rumors about what is going on here," Ochberg said. "And then, I think the president could take this opportunity to say that even if this veteran is suffering from PTSD, do not stereotype veterans with PTSD as deadly dangerous, because most of them are not not."
Elspeth Ritchie, retired army colonel and psychiatrist specializing in the disease, said that PTSD varied in its characteristics and that it was sometimes considered a "cold" in psychiatry.
Combat service is not necessarily synonymous with PTSD. Ritchie said the data on soldiers who served in Iraq at the height of the war suggest that about a quarter came back with some symptoms of PTSD but did not necessarily suffer from the disease.
"On the issue of the relationship between PTSD and violence – as often with mental illness, the risk of violence increases a bit, but it's not the kind of violence of going to a bar and shooting people, "said Ritchie.
In case of large-scale shootings, she added, the perpetrators of these crimes often suffer from mental disorders involving illusion and paranoia, far more serious than PTSD, even if they served in the past. army and witnessed fighting.
"When you talk about entering and filming a place. . . almost all the time it's worse than PTSD, "said Ritchie. "It's usually a psychotic episode. Psychosis means being disconnected from society. "