Shortly after last week's shooting at Fort Hood the Army was quick to point out that the alleged shooter had no direct combat experience. But that did little to stem rounds of media speculation about post traumatic stress and violence, prompting many veterans to say the latest headlines and television coverage has only served to reinforce the false stereotype of combat veterans as ticking time bombs. (Eric A. Fernandez / Army)
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WASHINGTON — Shortly after last week's shooting at Fort Hood the Army was quick to point out that the alleged shooter had no direct combat experience.
But that did little to stem rounds of media speculation about post traumatic stress and violence, prompting many veterans to say the latest headlines and television coverage has only served to reinforce the false stereotype of combat veterans as ticking time bombs.
"We run the risk of stigmatizing them to a degree that it creates a backlash against the veteran community," said Joe Campa, a former Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy who is a partner in a government contracting company that hires veterans and their families. "We saw that before (with Vietnam veterans) and we can't let that happen again."
Investigators are still delving into the background of Spec. Ivan Lopez, who killed three fellow soldiers and wounded 16 others at the Army post in Texas. The Army said he was not exposed to direct combat during a four-month tour in Iraq.
Lopez' arrived in Iraq in 2011, as the U.S. mission was winding down and American forces were largely confined to bases in support of Iraqi security forces.
"His records show no wounds, no involvement — direct involvement — in combat," said Army Secretary John McHugh, the U.S. Army's top civilian official.
The Army has said the shooting may have stemmed from a dispute over a request for leave. He was being treated for depression and anxiety, but there is no evidence linking those conditions to his military experience.
"We shouldn't put a stigma on all these great men and women who served," said Carlton Kent, a former sergeant major of the Marine Corps and partner of Campa's.
Marine Col. Todd Desgrosseilliers, a highly decorated combat leader who suffered a traumatic brain injury during fighting in Fallujah, Iraq, said he was not aware of the facts in the Fort Hood case but said the the attention such incidents receive often overshadows the truth that most veterans are well adjusted.
"Combat is a morally draining and physically exhausting experience," said Desgrosseilliers, who commands The Basic School, where newly commissioned lieutenants are trained. "It does take a little while to digest everything you see. It doesn't mean there is anything wrong with you as a human being."
"We're not victims," Desgrosseilliers said.
Combat is only one potential cause of post traumatic stress and experiencing even intense combat does not necessarily lead to the condition.
"I think the population doesn't understand post traumatic stress," said Marine Staff Sgt. Cliff Wooldridge, who earned a Navy Cross, the Marines' second highest award for valor. "They link (post traumatic stress) to combat veterans, but you can have post traumatic stress from anything."
Wooldridge earned the Navy Cross after killing a Taliban militant in hand-to-hand combat and thwarting an insurgent attack on his platoon. He has remained in the Marine Corps.
Veterans say the misleading characterization of veterans as unstable has rubbed off on prospective employers, who sometimes view veterans warily.
Less than 1 percent of the American public serves in the military and employers often overlook the leadership skills, responsibility and other values that the military teaches, veterans say. Many veterans have parlayed their military experience into successful careers in politics or business.
"When you start talking about combat experience they just think you are going to bring that to the office," said Mike Baker, a Marine veteran of Iraq who was awarded two Purple Hearts for injuries he received in combat.
"I've had my own issues, but that doesn't affect me as far as performing in society," he said.