When Sarah Palin attended Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s rally in Oklahoma on Jan. 20, she not only exhibited her support for Trump, Palin also discussed the arrest that same week of her son Track, who was arrested in a domestic violence case. Palin noted that Track, who served in Iraq, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and that our current president has put in place policies that have perpetuated his condition. Palin also seemed to suggest that the issue of domestic violence was a “ramification of PTSD.” I have never suffered or known someone who has suffered from PTSD, so I cannot claim to know its effects on people. Nonetheless, explaining domestic violence away by saying that the blame should be placed on the disease rather than the person will only intensify the likelihood of repeated acts of violence that are now considered justifiable by the perpetrator. Instead, we must change the way that we view people who suffer from a mental illness.
In an op-ed piece for The New York Times, Nate Bethea, who served as a United States Army infantry officer from 2007 to 2014, spoke about Palin’s seemingly dismissive comment from his experience as a veteran who suffers from PTSD. Bethea said, “Facing up to destructive or abusive behavior comes next, along with the assertion that we are responsible for our actions, no matter what burdens we carry. Post-traumatic stress is no excuse for violence or abuse, nor should it be considered a default association.” Rather than justify the problem, I believe that there should be greater focus on the mental health of veterans while they are serving, but also once they return to an environment that may not necessarily feel like it did when they left.
Bethea noted that he was able to get the help that he needed to undergo the process of healing. However, not everyone has the privilege to have resources accessible, and PTSD, as well as other mental health issues, varies for everyone. So perhaps on some level, Palin is correct — our country does need to focus more on mental health issues and dismantling the stigma that comes from the illnesses that cannot be outwardly seen. Nevertheless, the solution is not to defend the actions that one takes when suffering from PTSD or any other consequence of war — we must help change the way people perceive mental illness.