PTSD and John Mc Cain

While some worry about the impact of John McCain’s age on his physical health and his longevity in office, others are more concerned about his mental health. The more than 1500 pages detailing McCain’s medical information released to date do not dispel the persistent notion that the candidate’s notorious temper may be related to his more than five years in a Vietnam prison camp where he attempted suicide (as reported in the NY Times August 25, 2007, eleven months after the British Observer-Guardian’s story.)

Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD)-- diagnosed in 1 of 8 veterans returning from the hell that is Iraq-- did not appear in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders until 1980, seven years after McCain’s release from Hanoi.

Anger and depression are two key symptoms of PTSD and much has been said about the government’s failure to provide veterans with the medical help they need. The New England Journal of Medicine reports that only 23-40% of soldiers suffering from PTSD seek help because of the stigma the military attaches to psychiatric treatment.

In “John McCain: An American Odyssey” author Robert Timberg (who McCain says knows, “more about me than I do”) calls McCain’s legendary rages, “out of all proportion to the provocation.” He has also spoken of McCain’s reaction to the sound of keys jangling as a trigger for his Vietnam jail nightmares.

McCain has also been quoted by columnist Sidney Blumenthal as calling colleagues, “asshole” and “fucking jerk,” on the Senate floor. Even if this were considered “normal” behavior, it would be difficult to classify as “presidential.”

His conservative idealism founded on “God, the USN, family and country” coupled with his age and questionable state of mind remind us of the infamous Clinton red-telephone ad. If/when the nuclear phone rings at 3 a.m. voters will prefer that the awakened president not be prone to disproportionate rages or phobias about jangling keys. They might also like allegiances to God, family and country to be weighed against diplomacy and global survival.

McCain’s claim to superior “foreign policy” skills in contrast to Obama is based on his Vietnam War experience. By that standard, approximately 500,000 U.S. soldiers who have served in Iraq would be qualified to become president, though 80,000 of them will be experiencing post-traumatic stress and 5 of those soldiers will try to commit suicide every day according to CNN and USA Today.

In the end, it may not be the Republican nominee’s age, but the very life experience that makes McCain a “war hero”—even to his opponents—that becomes his political undoing.

It is not enough to respond, as some have, that McCain’s mental health is no worse than Richard Nixon’s since no one cares to re-run that presidency. For the nation’s faith to be vested in John McCain, he will have to prove he is not the same man who tried to hang himself in a prison cell near Hanoi. And he shall have to do that without flying into a rage because someone raises a legitimate question about his mental health today.

The REAL Depression

She looked like many teenage girls-- dewy complexion and Miley Cyrus curls framing a pretty face. She cast her eyes toward the pavement, though, to avoid my smile as I held the door for her and her look-alike Dad rushing to join her from a suburban luxury car. He took the door and held it while thanking me. Her look said, ‘Please don’t notice we’ve come to this.”

I was dropping off clothing after a closet-cleaning spree. The Salvation Army is glad to have wearable donations, plus used books and toys, children’s furniture and anything re-useable. It provides a real service, especially in times like these. Lately, once-more-affluent newcomers have swelled thrift shoppers’ ranks.

The young woman and her Dad separated. He stopped at the collection of books and CD’s and she headed for the racks of women’s clothes. I watched her moving the hangers one by one as she inspected the items arranged by color. She slammed each rejected blouse angrily into the previous unwanted item on the rack, upset that her choices were reduced to this.

Behind her, a baby wailed. His young father comforted him while his mother turned from her inspection of used dishes to set the baby’s pacifier in his mouth. That little family showed none of the teen’s embarrassment. They looked like the usual clientele that enjoys bargain hunting in thrift shops.

The teen finally identified a blouse she could live with. Laundered and starched, it had today’s gypsy fashion look. She marched it over to her Dad who checked the price tag and gave her a cautious nod.

She never smiled. A shirt she could live with as opposed to an item of clothing she loved was a distinction her set jaw made clear. Holding the blouse up for a final inspection, her expression wondered, “Will anyone ever know I got this here?”

By then, Dad was inspecting clothing for young men. He found a Red Sox sweatshirt that looked as if it might fit a son about 10 years old. As he made the decision to take it, his head moved slightly toward one shoulder and he shrugged to himself in resignation.

This tiny drama in the Salvation Army mirrored scenes in supermarkets and other retailers of late. An elderly woman picks up a box of cereal, looks at the price, shakes her head and puts it back on the shelf. A young man in overalls driving a work truck watches the dials spinning at the gas pump and, in the end, replaces the nozzle mumbling curse words to himself. Good friends collecting unemployment make excuses when invited to join us at a local diner. In the drug store, a mother tells a begging child, over and over again, “Mommy can’t pay for that.”

“That” used to be a ten-dollar toy: now it’s a one-dollar bag of candy. Either way, the child is devastated and the Mom saddened.

My grandparents used to talk about “the Depression.” I am only now able to put a face on what they were remembering, and I am terrified for what the heartless, cold and costly winter will bring.

Mary Ann Sorrentino

Mary Ann Sorrentino
Italy Series of articles runs Aug./Sept/Oct 2015

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"JOACHIM" - Oct. '92-March '08

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