Fear and hatred of the other, consummated with acts of violence are a sickness within our American society. While not unique to our nation, it has to be acknowledged in order to be treated.
I cannot classify it as mental or psychological illness. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would call it a spiritual sickness that is inherent in our nature as humans.
We can either be proactive in dealing with contributing factors (societal and cultural) or continue to react to the consequences — patching broken bodies and spirits of some, and burying the bodies of others.
The guest editorial I wrote below originally published in The Sentinel in December 2013 and remains relevant today:
Last December (2012), our hearts and spirits were once again broken as we endured the deaths of 20 children and seven adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in the postcard-perfect community of Newtown, Connecticut. During our holiday season when we share hope and optimism for things that might be, we were in mourning.
As we seek to affirm our personal and societal values with the approach of a new year, Americans should reexamine and recommit to our nation’s principles. Inevitably after such symbolic gestures, we are shocked back into the reality of the world we live in. This reality includes mass shootings at a movie theater, a place of worship, shopping malls, more schools and federal facilities. While the pervasive and passionate national discourse remains focused on gun control and Second Amendment rights, we must acknowledge the precipitating condition for these tragedies is mental illness.
The Newtown shooter’s motives were simply unfathomable. Initial accounts yielded the image of an enigmatic young man loved by his family. We cannot confirm his diagnosis, but the consequences were once again tragic. We can surely link this young man’s actions to a current major national issue, effective mental health care.
We can assume that the shooter was covered with healthcare (to include mental) provided by his father’s employer. We did not know the extent of treatment that his family sought for his condition — nor whether more treatment would have made a difference.
Our emotions return as we recall how we felt when first hearing of the shootings in Tucson, Arizona, in 2010. We were appalled by the attack on not only our public officials but also on our citizens with six dead and 18 wounded. But the killer was not a terrorist; he was simply another troubled American. Tragically, the shooter at the Washington Naval Yard this past September (2013), which left 12 dead and three wounded, was an honorably discharged and troubled veteran.
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We know that these three killers — in Newtown, Tucson, and D.C. — had a history of mental illness or disorder. Of course, we must not regard all individuals with such afflictions as violent sociopaths. But it is reasonable to believe that access to community healthcare is important for the diagnosis, treatment, and monitoring of afflicted individuals.
When access to care is not funded or otherwise unavailable, our society pays in many other ways — emergency room visits, homelessness, arrests and incarceration, and otherwise damaged lives. Then many mentally ill individuals go untreated. Or family members attempt to treat them at home, where they may become unmanageable. (See essay http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/16/i-am-adam-lanzas-mother-mental-illness-conversation_n_2311009.html).
As a retired veteran, I and my family have benefited greatly from our military healthcare system — especially its mental health programs. I fully support health care legislation that includes two important provisions: universal health care for American citizens and prohibition of denial of insurance for pre-existing conditions.
We can be assured that two victims in Arizona were fully insured: the federal district judge and the member of Congress. We can also be confident that former Rep. Gabby Giffords’ medical expenses were extensive. Because she had a military husband, her family was assuredly protected from the massive bills associated with emergency trauma response, critical and intensive care units, and the continuing expenses of specialists, medications, and rehabilitation.
In November 2009, the tragedy at Fort Hood, Texas, left 13 killed and 32 wounded. All of the victims were government employees — uniformed and civilian. They were effectively covered under a “universal” healthcare program. We know that they received medical treatment after the incident and remain eligible for continuing care by our government. At the Navy Yard in our nation’s capital, the dead and wounded were civilian federal employees or contractors, who were similarly cared and provided for.
If any of the other Arizona victims did not have healthcare insurance, their expenses would have been devastating. For those who survived the attack and sought insurance, would they have been denied coverage based upon a pre-existing condition while being at the wrong place at the wrong time?
I frequently pose this question to my military colleague: Should we expect less for those whom we protect and who serve in various roles in our nation?
We should be reminded of the old TV ad, “You can pay me now or you can pay me later.” We can agree that when it comes to mental illness, the cost of non-treatment will balloon to much greater expenses and greater consequences for individuals, families, and communities. While our healthcare programs are not perfect and undeniably need refinement, we must not be distracted with red herring issues. The short-term savings of denied physical and mental healthcare will be illusory. The inevitable human suffering will be all too real.