Home 3 Days, Iraq Vet Dies Shooting at Police

I’m of the “suicide by cop” camp on this one.

There is no “one single cause” for stuff like this.  You can’t simply “blame” LE, and you can’t simply “blame” the military or the VA, and while I guess you can simply “blame” Miller, it’s clear the guy had some problems.  It’s funny how we have all these TV shows where we jump to defend – or at least understand – veteran characters who have psychotic breaks in suburbia, but as soon as somebody is convicted of a DUI, we just blame them – I’m not trying to say people shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions, just that alcoholism can be a symptom, you know?  It’s an overdetermined bundle of ugliness fueled by a number of things, including but not limited to punishing deployments and rotations with insufficient downtime in between to “reintegrate,” a military culture that our current culture at large is so profoundly ignorant of and disconnected to as to make it nearly impossible for some vets to feel like anybody back home understands them, and the ease with which the military’s inculcation of those MacGyver skills and that MacGyver mentality can end up hurting the unfortunates who have trouble reintegrating but also trouble admitting something is wrong and getting help. I’ve talked already all over this blog about how hard that help can be to get.  God rest William Miller and inspire this nation to offer something more than yellow ribbons to the returning vets and to those who will be rejoining civilian life over the next few years as the force faces major changes.

I got back to civilian life and found a job with my WWII era veteran grandfather, could talk to my Desert Shield/Storm-era friends and my friends still on active duty, was lucky enough to find martial arts before I unraveled at the edges and my back problems took all the wind out of me (my martial arts instructor had a degree in Chinese medicine and in exercise physiology, so he helped me when the Army couldn’t and the VA wouldn’t, and it was timely, because a solid year of chiropractic when I had no insurance gave me no pain relief, and it was getting really, really depressing living like that. He gave me the care and exercise program I needed so that I could live without daily pain, so I get really upset when people bash alternative approaches to chronic pain management. I would have tried anything at that point.).  I sought out Vietnam-era vets to talk to when I was working on a project for school, and I sort of consciously made these issues something I thought about and worked on regularly, tried to talk to people about, gave a damn about.

But in this country, there aren’t that many veterans of earlier wars of anything resembling the scope of what our armed forces have faced over the last ten years left.  Both of my grandfathers are gone.  Veterans don’t return to a society that, as a whole, understands very much of what their lives have been like, of what the military is even for and what it really does.  Transition programs and screenings-by-questionnaire can only do so much, and you can only hold the military accountable to a certain extent.  Soldiers have to be able to rejoin civilian society when they get home, and with a society that is so completely out of touch with military service and military life, that can be insanely difficult.  Put something like William Miller’s company’s folding in the mix, a situation where a soldier cannot find a foothold in this world he’s returning to and thinks he has nothing left in a nation devastated by unemployment and full of employers who do not what treasures military veterans can be as employees,[*] and you have a recipe for tragedy.  It’s not a recipe that only a veteran can mix up, either – hopelessness is a nasty burden, and this kind of thing happens every day in cases where the person making the news (or not making the news) is not a veteran.  I mean, I’m sitting in my apartment wearing pajamas and a sweater because I can’t afford to turn my heat up and can’t afford to pay last month’s gas bill, and it’s been cold, overcast, and rainy for a week, and that sucks.  But right now somebody else is sleeping in this mess in a cardboard box somewhere because they don’t have anywhere to live, and would love to have my problems, my sweater, and my gas bill.  Stats being what they are, some of them are vets.  And stats being what they are, some of them culd never have made it into military service and have had all the cards stacked against them for most of their lives.

And I do worry, even though everyone gives lip service to the “support the troops” routine, that as more and more vets return home and leave active duty over the next few years, that a society largely out of touch with military values, military culture, and military experience will ostracize them and fall prey to suspicions that all you have to do is scratch the surface, under every combat veteran there’s a damaged psycho waiting to be let loose.  That would be a terrible tragedy, and I am not sure I am capable of imagining what sort of changes would need to happen in this country in order to avoid it.

[*]  I also don’t mean to valorize the military as the only way to produce a person with a work ethic and an ability to get things done.  One of the more complicated realities that a civilian society is going to face over the next few years is the fact that the military is a microcosm of society (though the demographics are a little skewed in a few areas and not representative overall of US culture in every area).  What this means for the purposes of my post here is that the military doesn’t just produce leaders and heroes – it is made up of human beings, and some of them have more going for them than others.  Some do well after a transition to a less structured environment, but those that were “three-meter soldiers” on active duty and did not grow up and/or get the training and leadership to become better probably aren’t going to be stellar employees as civilians either. (I will be the first to admit that I had some three-meter soldiers when I was an NCO that I was very surprised to later find out had re-upped, and/or gotten promoted, and/or just actually grown the hell up.  I think I was young enough when I was on active duty to lose sight of the fact that not all of my soldiers were quite done maturing yet. But that is probably another post.)   And some people don’t transition to a less-structured environment very well at all.  The military can bring out the best in some people.  But it can also bring out the worst.  The bottom line is you can’t stick the same label on everybody.