As US Marine reservist Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi languishes in a Mexican jail on gun charges and attempts to obtain help from the US Government, his case shines a spotlight on the complicated issues posed by veterans suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Tahmooressi was in California in late March for PTSD treatment when he strayed to a border checkpoint with his pickup truck containing all his belongings, including three registered firearms. Although US Representative Duncan Hunter (R.-Cal.) has taken an active role in pursuing help for the jailed veteran, US Government assistance through official channels has not been overtly visible.
With veterans suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder and its myriad complications and issues, the case of US Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi makes many wonder about the extent of government responsibility for smoothing the path for veterans’ re-entry into civilian life. The issue has been a question for a few generations, although the term PTSD may not have been in vogue after World Wars I and II. As the old sign in the five and dime says, “You break it, you buy it.” To the extent veterans of foreign fighting fail to return in the same mental and emotional state as when they left, many feel a responsibility for their continued well-being. Tahmooressi did not reach a Mexican border checkpoint in an official military capacity or in furtherance of an official mission, but he may suffer from diminished capacity in one fashion or another due to concussions and other occurrences while he served in Afghanistan.
The US Marines have offered supportive gestures to Tahmooressi, yet have not claimed to be actively involved in efforts to release the 25-year-old because he is not active duty. For many, and Tahmooressi may or may not be included, the daily reminders of their service do not end upon discharge from active duty. For those with physical wounds, the reminders are obvious. For those suffering from PTSD, the daily reminders may be more subtle. If Tahmooressi needs help adjusting to civilian life, he likely will not receive necessary treatment in Mexican prison. The fear and turmoil could make matters worse upon his eventual return. Mexican authorities have reportedly communicated that any sentencing in Tahmooressi’s case, if it ever reaches that point, will be more lenient if pleads posttraumatic stress disorder was a contributing factor in his actions. Whether the young veteran will do so or not remains unclear.
PTSD statistics are difficult to grasp. With any type of mental or emotional issues, creating precise measurements and bright line tests can be difficult. Over 2.3 million armed forces personnel served in Afghanistan and Iraq. Out of that number, some estimate roughly 20 percent of these veterans have problems with depression and/or posttraumatic stress disorder. Only about half of those believed suffering from PTSD ever seek treatment and for those who do, the treatment is often “minimally adequate” according to studies. Many veterans also suffer from traumatic brain injury (TBI) and seven percent of recent veterans suffer from both.
How to help veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder and what to do if they cross legal boundaries after active duty discharge from the military are difficult and complicated issues, and the case of US Marines Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi in Mexico helps to spotlight these difficulties as family, friends and other supporters look for ways to help bring him home. Even if Tahmooressi is no longer on active duty, the veteran’s two tours of duty in Afghanistan could still be with him.
By William Costolo