CCBC offers a teachable moment on PTSD

November 30, 2010

With less than 1 percent of the American population having served in our post-9/11 military, the aggregate impact of two wars is felt by relatively few. The consequences of this reality are troubling, but few are understood less than post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Childs Walker's November 20 article ("War veteran barred from CCBC campus for frank words on killing") highlights one of the most difficult issues facing our wounded warriors.

Mr. Walker writes about Charles Whittington, a former U.S. Army infantryman who served in Iraq. After being injured while deployed, Mr. Whittington was diagnosed with PTSD, sought medical treatment, and eventually made his way to the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC).

As part of his therapy, Mr. Whittington was encouraged to write about his experiences and their lasting effects. Charles did, had a 4.0 GPA, and was eventually encouraged by his professor to seek publication in the school's newspaper. He did, and in a graphic way described his violent thoughts. This was to be expected — by, at least, his professor and medical professionals — but he was nonetheless suspended because of "administrators who were concerned with what they read."

The school's initial safety-related concerns were well-placed and likely legitimate; however, their subsequent behavior was ill-informed. If they had worked to understand Mr. Whittington, CCBC would have realized that his PTSD is something to manage, rather than fear.

But since CCBC's president, Sandra Kurtinitis, chose to make a statement suggesting, "it would be hard … to read the article in question without the images of Fort Hood, Virginia Tech, and Northern Illinois looming large" ("CCBC supports vets but puts safety first," Nov. 30) it is difficult to assume that CCBC understands veterans' mental health issues. Plainly, to equate a combat veteran seeking to heal by expressing his emotions with mass murderers is playing to our worst fears rather than the facts.

While this event is troubling, it should be used as a teachable moment regarding the larger issue of returning combat veterans and their assimilation into society, the workforce and higher education. It is naïve to think that these types of situations will not recur on campuses across the nation as more and more service members return from combat and reenter academia. We will be remiss if we do not learn the necessary lessons.

Brendan Hart, Washington

The writer is manager of campus services for the Wounded Warrior Project and served in the Marine Corps from 2003-2006.

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