Posts Tagged ‘PTSD’


Last week, I wrote about a San Francisco police officer named Morgan (not the officer’s real name). Morgan’s observations were too numerous and important to share in a single post. Here in part two, Morgan relates challenges with which police deal every day. This may shed a new light on the childhood game of cops and robbers.

Any workday can present police with life-threatening danger. Once, Morgan and a partner chased two homicide suspects. The suspects were shooting at them. Real guns. Real bullets. “Most people run from danger,” Morgan says. “Police run towards it.” What was Morgan thinking? “We need to get these people.” Morgan is thankful for never having had to fire a weapon. Still, when an officer fires in a dangerous situation, says Morgan, people complain. They say the officer didn’t need to shoot or should have shot the suspect in the leg or hand. “They want to know why we can’t do what they do on TV. Reality is, we’re trained to shoot to stop the threat.” An officer who doesn’t is likely to be killed.

The media, according to Morgan, goes for the sensational. TV dramas and movies distort images of police. “They play up corruption, criminal activity, killing people. Unless you ride along with police officers, you can’t understand the actions we take, why we do what we do.” Morgan doesn’t watch much TV

San Francisco is a tough place to be a cop. “We’re sometimes called to be the touchy-feely police.” SFPD officers are taught to call people sir and ma’am, to be respectful and polite. While officers can escalate a number of levels of physical force, “The majority uses a great deal of restraint. We first try verbal persuasion.”

The Office of Citizen Complaints makes police wary. Some complaints are deserved. Many aren’t. A complaint was filed when Morgan issued a parking ticket right after 9/11 as if parking in a red zone should have been allowed as America sorted out grief and confusion. Morgan has faced more serious accusations, none true. “People can accuse an officer of anything. A drunk guy accused me of stealing his jewelry and calling him names. My partner and I had to tackle him and take him to jail. Actually, he was calling us names.”

People can skew a scene to their own perceptions. “I’ve been in situations that people are yelling that I’m hurting the person I’m trying to arrest, but they don’t know the whole story, what the person did, what led up to my action.” Complaints may be dismissed, but they still stay in an officer’s file.

Stress is high and ongoing. Morgan believes that the majority of police officers everywhere suffer from PTSD. “It’s like going to war every day. It’s traumatizing.” Unfortunately, few police can find a home in San Francisco. Police are well paid, but Morgan believes San Francisco to be “absolutely not affordable.”

Still, Morgan loves police work. “This is the best job I’ve ever had. I love the excitement. Every day is different. As a patrol officer, I have a lot of freedom. I enjoy that.”

There are many Morgans out there answering our calls when we need them. That’s worth thinking about.

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As a kid, I read comic books about war. World War Two had ended not long before. We were fighting in Korea, and the Cold War would continue after. The soldiers and marines in those comic books were amazing. They could fire a rifle, throw a grenade then throw a punch and crack wise all at the same time. Humor has always been part of soldiers’ equipment. Wisecracks ease the burdens of pained hearts. War, after all, is serious stuff.

So is coming home.

One in five veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and veterans account for 20 percent of U.S. suicides, according to, a project of George Washington University. Tens of thousands of vets have been diagnosed with Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI). Then there are all those vets who have not been diagnosed.

Some people get it. Last Sunday, The Pathway Home, a non-profit, non-government treatment center for Iraq-Afghanistan vets at the Veterans Home in Yountville, held a show of veterans’ art. Robert Green Fine Arts in Mill Valley donated the space. The show was based on work by the Walking Point Foundation. Walking Point helps veterans come to grips with their wounds through art. Volunteer mentors work with the vets in Yountville, encouraging and guiding at the vets’ pace. My friend Jim Shay, a fabulous painter, is one of the mentors.

Not surprisingly, the striking paintings, drawings, collages and masks emphasized death. That’s what men in combat experience. Additionally, several of the men read prose and poetry. They revealed what they’d been through and the raw emotions with which they must deal daily. Their words were profound and meaningful because they were real. No comic book heroism here.

The Pathway Home understands what our veterans have been through, what help they’re getting from the Department of Veterans Affairs and what they’re not getting. It offers a residential setting in which veterans—at no cost—receive comprehensive, leading edge therapy to provide the tools needed to help complete educational programs, get jobs, restore personal relationships and finally “come home.” Technology, art and service dogs all play a role in the healing process. The Pathway Home has treated more than 380 veterans since its inception in January 2008.

The Walking Point Foundation mentors vets through the arts. It helps them express themselves, connect with others and heal. In addition to The Pathway Home, Walking Point works with the Palo Alto Veterans Administration. It soon will expand to the Oakland Vet Center, the Homeless Veterans Rehabilitation Program at the Menlo Park VA, the San Francisco VA, the San Francisco Vet Center and the San Rafael Vet Center. It hopes to develop a national model to assist vets everywhere.

Most of us have heard the old saying, “War is hell.” Coming home can be hell, too. We also know that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. We can bitch. Or we can do. I ask you to offer our vets a better route by going to Pathways’ and Walking Point’s web sites and making a donation.

This column honors the memory of 1LT Howard Schnabolk, US Army, who never got the chance to come home.

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Read the first three chapters of SAN CAFÉ and of SLICK!, named by Kirkus Reviews as one of the 25 Best Indie Novels of 2012, at Order at, or