Linking the Fort Hood shooting to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder only hurts American service members struggling to process their war experiences and make their way back in the civilian world, Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer told FoxNews.com.
Meyer, a Marine who battled PTSD after coming home from Afghanistan, where he risked his life to recover the remains of four fallen brothers in arms, winced when he heard some reports attributing Army Spec. Ivan Lopez's Wednesday rampage to the condition. Lopez gunned down three fellow soldiers, wounded 16 and then killed himself when a military cop confronted him.
“Going out and shooting your own friends, your own people, that’s not PTSD,” Meyer, the youngest Medal of Honor recipient in history, told FoxNews.com. “I don’t know what the word is for it. It’s close to psychotic.
“It’s putting a label on all veterans that veterans are psychotic or mentally unstable and they're going to shoot up places. And they’re not."
- Dakota Meyer, Medal of Honor recipient
“PTSD does not put you in the mind set to go out and kill innocent people,” Meyer, 25, added. “The media label this shooting PTSD, but if what that man did is PTSD, then I don’t have it.”
The Marine sergeant said he worries that other service members who fought for the nation and witnessed things that still haunt them could be stigmatized if the civilian public believes PTSD makes them dangerous.
“It’s putting a stigma on all veterans,” he said. “It’s putting a label on all veterans that veterans are psychotic or mentally unstable and they're going to shoot up places. And they’re not."
Lopez, who served in Iraq for four months in 2011, was reportedly being assessed for PTSD before the shooting. But military officials say Lopez is not believed to have experienced any traumatic event, suffered any wounds in action or been through anything else that might have made him snap. Family and friends have suggested he had other mental issues that may have not been directly related to his service.
Meyer received the nation's highest honor during a White House ceremony on Sept. 15, 2011. He is the third living recipient of the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War, and the first living U.S. Marine to be honored since 1973.
Two years earlier, then a corporal, Meyer braved heavy enemy fire several times to look for three fellow Marines and a Navy corpsman caught in a Taliban ambush near Ganjgal in Afghanistan's Kunar province. Risking his life, he located the missing troops -- all of them dead -- and then extracted their bodies with the help of Afghan government troops. During the fight he killed eight Taliban and saved the lives of 13 Americans and 23 Afghans.
When the White House called him to arrange the ceremony, he asked if he could have a beer with President Obama. They did the day before the ceremony at a metal patio table near the Oval Office.
Meyer told his heroic story in a book in which he also divulged a dark secret. He wrote about how he attempted suicide in September 2010, just days after the first anniversary of the Ganjgal incident. Afterward he sought treatment for PTSD.
As a returning vet, his struggle with PTSD was not that unusual.
The Department of Veterans Affairs says PTSD is a trauma and stress-related disorder that affects up to 20 percent of soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. About 2.8 million men and women served in the two countries.
Paula Schnurr, acting executive director of the VA National Center for PTSD, said media reports that portray vets with PTSD as violent only serves to stigmatize those vets and feeds an inaccurate perception. She said the stories could also do harm by preventing someone who has PTSD from seeking care.
“Many people with PTSD lead a normal life while trying to cope with PTSD,” Schnurr said.
Meyer said his PTSD started when he thought about the friends who died in Afghanistan. It led to severe depression.
“I would question things. It was a lack of confidence,” he said. “I was second-guessing myself, thinking 'I'm just not normal,' and I’m trying to figure thing out. I’m trying to make reason of what happened and how to go on from this point forward.”
But he also healed by focusing on those who lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, coming to the conclusion that, “If I don’t want to live for myself, I have an obligation to do it for those who never got that chance,” he said.
Nowadays he is on active duty in the Marine reserves. He owns his own home and is president and CEO of a construction company in his hometown of Columbia, Kentucky.
Meyer said he believes the VA and military were doing as much as they can to address PTSD.
But he also said America had to do more--to stop labeling vets with PTSD as dangerous.
He said he makes the point that they aren't all the time, whenever he is asked to speak on the topic.
“It will never change until we raise awareness of vets and America sees how great these people are,” he said.