Veterans for America won’t be taking sides in the presidential election, but as a veteran who has spent much of the past seven years helping and advocating for soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with combat stress, I can’t let the following exchange between Cindy McCain and a Marie Claire reporter go unchallenged:
Marie Claire: You met your husband after his POW days. To what extent is that still with you – or is it a part of history?
Cindy McCain: My husband will be the first one to tell you that that’s in the past. Certainly it’s a part of who he is, but he doesn’t dwell on it. It’s not part of a daily experience that we experience or anything like that. But it has shaped him. It has made him the leader that he is.
Marie Claire: But no cold sweats in the middle of the night?
Cindy McCain: Oh, no, no, no, no, no. My husband, he’d be the first one to tell you that he was trained to do what he was doing. The guys who had the trouble were the 18-year-olds who were drafted. He was trained, he went to the Naval Academy, he was a trained United States naval officer, and so he knew what he was doing.
I’ve read this exchange thirty times on my screen, trying to see if I read it wrong. I’ve tried give her the benefit of the doubt and come up with some other interpretation, but all I can gather from this is that Cindy McCain thinks that PTSD is a result of either incompetence, poor training, lack of resolve, or some combination of the three. That her husband escaped the wrath of combat stress because his heart was more in it than draftees’, that his training left him better equipped than infantrymen to deal with the horrors of war, or that he “knew what he was doing” more than the countless Vietnam veterans Sen. McCain and I both know who still suffer from PTSD.
Cindy McCain should apologize to veterans and PTSD sufferers and go on record saying that her husband’s lack of mental combat wounds don’t result from his training, valor, or competence. We have soldiers arriving from Iraq and Afghanistan in thousands, facing two ruthlessly difficult tasks: fighting tooth and nail to get the proper treatment and care for their mental wounds, and dealing with the stigma of PTSD. Having any public figure, let alone the potential first lady, insinuate that sufferers have a hand in their condition can make both of these already difficult tasks unbearable. This perspective is both false on its face, and harmful to our troops and veterans.
Mrs. McCain: PTSD is a non-partisan issue. It doesn’t discriminate between Democrats, Republicans, or independents, and doesn’t discriminate between Fort Bragg and the U.S. Naval Academy either. Please retract your misinformed statements about the nature of the mental wounds of war.
In the first Presidential debate, Senator John McCain exhibited an emotionally flat “shutdown” response when he did not appear irritable and cross. He refused to make eye contact with Obama, favored grandstanding over dialogue, and stated that he would refuse to come to the table with world leaders who don’t agree with him. If in place of the Paris Peace Talks, Henry Kissinger, McCain’s hero, had displayed similar attitudes back in the 1970’s, we might still be in Vietnam.
All who incur PTSD in the line of duty deserve our respect…soldiers returning from Iraq are encouraged by the U.S. military and the Veterans Administration to receive the new and definitive PTSD treatment methods that were developed following research that emerged after 9/11. Soldiers are helped to heal rather than suffer quote-unquote heroically. As part of that healing, it’s vital to identify any signs of PTSD, and distinguish those symptoms from the true skills of leadership…making brash decisions may (or may not) be the sign of a maverick, but it sure is a sign of PTSD.
Over the last weeks, many have noted McCain’s tendency to impulse buy mismatched stances and strategies, which when put together look like the ensemble from hell. His selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate, like many an overnight infatuation with a stranger, seems different in the morning. The flexibility needed for true leadership would dictate admitting that mistake.
In our complex world we need leaders who tolerate ambiguities without rushing to judgment driven by neurological and brain chemical imbalances etched deeply by traumatic experiences. It’s also well established that PTSD sufferers can feel triggered or endangered by slight occurrences which they perceive as a threat. Even when a person with PTSD came by their wounds honestly–as most do, is such a person the steadiest hand on the red button during a nuclear age?