As a Canadian, I am often amazed at the level of mud-slinging involved in American politics. Sure, Canadian politicians employ their own brand of callous name-calling, but in comparison to our southern bi-partisan neighbours, they’re fairly amicable.
And yet, the uncouthness of American politics never ceases to amaze me. This time, Illinois Republican Congressman Joe Walsh is the star of the show.
In recent statements, Walsh insinuated that his Democrat opponent, Iraqi War veteran Tammy Duckworth, is not a ‘true hero’. Duckworth is a double amputee – having lost both of her legs in 2004 following a rocket propelled grenade attack on her helicopter. In an attempt to clarify his statements, Walsh went on to explain that in previous conversations with veterans, rarely have they openly discussed “the combat they’ve seen”, and insists that Duckworth revert from discussing her military past and begin talking about the “real issues” in the country. According to Walsh, it’s time to “move on”.
Anyone who knows of Joe Walsh is aware of his history of questionable comments, yet this newest rant is particularly awful. Yes, his continuous reference to Duckworth’s gender did not go amiss (in addition to an undertone of intimidation). Yet, this recent ramble goes much further than his usual absurdity. Walsh’s comments are irresponsible, and for reasons beyond his obvious slight at women. His remarks perpetuate the very stigmatization that is far too often associated with the prevalence of mental health issues plaguing the brave men and women who serve in the military. As a mental health practitioner and researcher, Walsh’s words hit much too close to home.
So, the problem is, Joe, I can’t ‘move on’. Not when the concern for our war heroes is so very real.
Walsh insists that a ‘true hero’ doesn’t speak of their experiences. The heartbreaking reality – many of our veterans do not talk about their lived experiences and subsequent difficulties. Sadly, it is this very lack of dialogue that has played a role in the surge of post-war mental health related issues and heightened prevalence of suicide that we see today. As a whole, mental health stigmatization if a societal concern but is worsened in the military. Why the fear of disclosure? Some may feel revelation will negatively impact their career, while others may feel ashamed or isolated as a result of their concealed stuggles. Sadly, they are in no way alone in their strife; the sky-rocketing rates of mental illness among our war heroes is a frightening concern. Over the past year, rates of suicide have peaked to the highest level since the onset of the war; since the beginning of 2012, there has been nearly one suicide each day. Although not all those who serve, or who will serve in future conflict, will develop mental health issues many do, and do so in silence.
I am by no means suggesting that Duckworth struggles with mental illness as a result of her service, and perhaps Duckworth is utilizing her military service as part of her election campaign more so than others. I am also not suggesting that Walsh was explicitly implying that service men and women should avoid seeking assistance. Nevertheless we are fighting a war on the home front now, and comments that may deter those from revealing their struggles and seeking help will only make the battle worse.
So, Joe, have some respect – not because she’s a woman, not because she has a physical disability, and not even because she’s a veteran. Instead, respect her as you would the thousands of American veterans who battle physical and mental challenges each and every day. Walsh, inferring ‘true heroes’ don’t talk about their experiences, irresponsibly contributes to stigma. A hero is someone who stands up for what is just, and Tammy Duckworth is just the type of person who advocates for those who may not be advocating for themselves. A hero in my books, even North of the border.
For those wanting more information on anti-stigmatization and help seeking in the U.S. Military, visit realwarriors.net.