How the ‘war on terror’ came home

Source: The Guardian Unlimited

The story of Aaron Alexis is still obscure. But effects of an over-taxed US military are painfully visible among 2 million veterans.

While details are gradually emerging, there is much we don’t know about the navy yard shooter Aaron Alexis. Yet, the shooting rampage of the navy veteran who retained a contractor’s pass to the navy yard in Washington DC has a context: a stressed and over-extended US military, exhausted by more than a decade of “war on terror” tours of duty, and a huge population of veterans who bear the mental and physical scars of their service and often struggle to reintegrate.

Aaron Alexis served for four years, from 2007 to 2011, as an aviation electrician in the US navy. A reservist, he did not serve in a foreign theater but was decorated with two of the most respected medals bestowed by the US military. But alongside these worthy elements of his resume, it is also reported that he was arrested twice on firearms offences, in 2004, before he signed up to the navy, and in 2010. Neither incident resulted in a criminal conviction, though the latter one apparently precipitated his discharge from the service. The Associated Press has also now reported that he had recently been receiving treatment from the Veterans Administration for mental health problems.

We have no insight, as yet, into Alexis’s possible motive, but according to a statement provided by Seattle police, Alexis’s father told detectives his son had “anger management problems” associated with post-traumatic stress disorder. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is estimated to afflict upwards of 30% of veterans, and while resources have been added, treatment for psychological ailments is sorely lacking. The greatest threat by far posed by traumatized veterans is not to others, but to themselves: it is estimated that 22 veterans in the US are committing suicide every day.

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