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Salute to Veterans: Bass believes ‘stigma’
of PTSD keeps many vets from seeking help

To honor those who have served our country in the military, KyForward has joined with a UK School of Journalism advanced journalism class taught by Dr. Michael Farrell for a series of stories on veterans and their personal experiences. We hope these stories provide insight for all of us and give special meaning to the celebration of Veterans Day.

By Caleb Oakley
Special to KyForward

About 20 percent of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have been diagnosed with post traumatic stress syndrome, according to Face the Facts USA, a project of the George Washington University. Richard Bass, a Lexington native and assemblyman at Toyota in Georgetown, believes the real number is much higher.


Richard Bass (Photo provided)

“They tell you that PTSD is a possible consequence of being part of the military,” said Bass, a 30-year-old Marine and veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. “At the same time, they don’t tell you that of the people that end up in combat, 90 percent end up with some sort of PTSD.”

So why the huge discrepancy in numbers?

Like many veterans, Bass joined the Marines after the terrorist attacks on New York City on Sept. 11, 2001. Also contributing to his decision: his grandfather was in the military, and Bass did not want to go to college. Bass was deployed four time during the first four years of his military service and recalled to active duty again in 2008.

Although he sustained a traumatic brain injury from a roadside bomb and witnessed atrocities such as friends being shot and civilians being blown up, Bass attributed his condition to military training more than a specific event.

“That debilitating PTSD you see all the time, I don’t think I have that,” said Bass. “I’m a product of military conditioning.”

Bass described his experience with PTSD as “hyper-vigilance.”

“I’m sitting here right now and I’m not too worried about you, but I’m watching this guy,” Bass said, pointing to a seemingly harmless college student, making his way across campus.

“See he’s got his hands in his pockets. I’m wondering what he’s got in his pockets,” said Bass. “Then I hear leaves rustling, and I want to know what’s making that sound- … if it’s the wind or something else.”

Bass then pointed to a third-story window in a nearby building.

“I’m watching every window,” said Bass. “You get shot at from a window once and you learn to watch out for every window. It becomes mentally exhausting.”

Bass added that five years ago, he wouldn’t have been able to meet outside for the interview. Bass does not see a counselor at the moment, but he is on medication that is paid for by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. Now, Bass said his PTSD is manageable.

“Every now and then, someone at the factory I work at will drop something, and the loud noise sets me off and I snap,” said Bass. “But with stuff like that, saying you’re a veteran is like a get-out-of-jail-free card.”

Although much of the blame for the prevalence of PTSD is put on the government, Bass believes armed forces are doing everything they can. Bass said discussion about PTSD increased drastically during his time in the military. Chaplains are available as a first-tier counselor, and chaplains can make arrangements to see other counselors.  

Those counselors can refer the individual to a mental health specialist. These services are available, yet the stigma surrounding seeking help deters many from taking advantage of the services.

“Even though everyone knows [PTSD] is a thing and has it to some degree, [seeking help] is a sign of weakness,” said Bass.

Military personnel are required to speak to counselors and other specialists before entering the military, and before going on leave. Bass said the military shows little concern with a recruit’s mental condition.

“The first thing the recruiter tells you is that if you want to join the military; they can’t know what you don’t tell them,” Bass said. “They make it clear it’s OK to omit things.”

Bass said the military knew he had PTSD when he was recalled from Individual Ready Reserve in 2008 but that it did not seem to matter. The level of scrutiny during one’s exit, however, is much higher, he said. Before going on leave, military members must go through a screening test with a case worker. These questions ask whether members experience some of the symptoms of PTSD, but never names the condition. If one is flagged based on the answers to those questions, the case worker will ask if the individual wishes to be referred to a specialist. Those who aren’t flagged are allowed to go home sooner, so many of them lie about the symptoms they are experiencing and never receive treatment.

After returning from Kuwait in 2009, Bass was flagged. He stayed at Camp Pendleton in San Diego for six weeks. Bass had to meet with several therapists before he left and usually had to wait a week in between appointments.

“I would have one appointment a week, and the rest of the time, I just sat in my barracks alone,” Bass said. “Eventually I started going to the offices, hoping someone would miss an appointment.”

Bass says misinformation involving treatment for PTSD also contributes to members of the armed forces not pursuing treatment.

“There’s a rumor that if you’re treated for PTSD, you can’t own a firearm, which means you wouldn’t to continue with police work or paramilitary [after your service] you couldn’t,” said Bass. “It took me a while to figure out that wasn’t true.”

Even though the services are available, thousands of armed forces members choose not to take advantage of those services. The stigma regarding PTSD, according to Bass, is most likely the chief reason for this occurrence.

“I don’t know what more the military could do,” Bass said. “How do you break a stigma?”

Caleb Oakley is a journalism student at University of Kentucky.

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