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.

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Mary Ann Sorrentino

Mary Ann Sorrentino
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