About Bradley's Blog:

A cop, a writer and a whole lot more.

Here you'll find my thoughts on writing, links to my published works, law enforcement musings and other tidbits. Please subscribe to my blog and I encourage you to share anything you find worthy. Thanks!

Disclaimer: these are my opinions and mine alone. I am not speaking as a representative of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department in any shape or form here. These are not necessarily the opinions of my employer.

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Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Silent Killer

This post is dedicated to those who have served on a war front in our military and to first-responders everywhere. Your willingness to confront danger and place yourself in harm's way is remarkable and all too often, thankless. You are the backbone of society and my hat is off to you.

The Silent Killer. That name has been attached to a variety of things over the years: high blood pressure, carbon monoxide, ovarian cancer, hepatitis C, the list goes on. For me, I've added one and it may just be the one that rises to the top. Stick with me for a moment and I think you might agree.


Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is something humans have surely experienced since the beginning of humanity. There are mentions of dysfunctional human psychological reactions to the aftermath of trauma in ancient texts, however, it has only been officially recognized and diagnosed by the American Psychiatric Association since 1980. Before that, it was given other names, like soldier's heart, battle fatigue, shell shock and hysteria. Some say up to 80 different names have been given to PTSD over the centuries in different cultures.


Something else psychiatric experts are learning is that although PTSD is more often associated with soldiers returning from the battlefield, nobody is immune and it's manifestation in people follows no solid rules; people have different trauma thresholds. What may be traumatic to one person, may not be for the next, but what's clear is every single person has a breaking point--something we all share biologically.

I saw the Clint Eastwood film American Sniper tonight. It's the true story of Chris Kyle, a U.S. Navy Seal sniper, who served four tours in Iraq and was proclaimed "the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history." If you haven't seen it and have an ounce of American blood in you, I highly suggest you do. The film provides a very good story about the heart of an American soldier and what PTSD can do to people. My only cautions are, it's certainly not a movie for young kids with the graphic violence one can expect from a modern war movie, and there's a pretty substantial amount of curse language, also probably to be expected from a movie of this type.


You might ask, "What do you know about PTSD?"--a valid question.

No, I've never been in a foreign land on a battle front during wartime. No, I've never killed another human being, thankfully.

But being in policing in a major city for almost two and a half decades has repeatedly exposed me to some of the scariest, ugliest, most horrific things humankind can offer. I know what charred human flesh smells like. I know what death looks like in the eyes of it's victim. I've seen a multitude of gruesome things done to human bodies--including children--things that can't be unseen. I know what it's like to be scared senseless and have only one way out: forward, through the fear. I've experienced things that I had no doubt I wouldn't survive, yet lived to tell jokes about. I've lost friends and comrades in line-of-duty deaths. And yes, I've experienced symptoms of PTSD in the past.

I recently wrote another article for POLICE Magazine that gives a very real accounting of the collateral damage that PTSD can rain upon the family members of law enforcement officers. Just click on the link for that story.


Many modernized police agencies are advanced in their understanding and willingness to talk about the elephant in the room: PTSD. Much like the military, there's a healthy (and sometimes unhealthy) dose of ego in the ranks of law enforcement, where admitting that something is mixed up in the noggin is the last thing someone wants to do. Pride, fear of what happens next, and fear that people will think you're weak are all strong detractors from people admitting to themselves that something's not right.

Without being a spoiler, in American Sniper there was a scene where Chris Kyle is sitting in his living room, staring at the TV while the sounds of bombs, gunfire and screaming people can be heard. The camera pans to reveal that the TV isn't on and the viewer realizes that Chris Kyle is mesmerized by a flashback to the war zone.

I know what that's like. Some years ago, I was sitting in my own living room, watching the Disney movie, The Little Mermaid, with my daughter who was five at the time. I experienced what is known clinically as intrusive recollection. Without warning, my eyesight was gone and my mind's eye was right back in the middle of a shoot/don't shoot situation I had experienced a few days before. For non-law enforcement folks, that's a situation where an officer is presented with an imminent threat and he or she must decide whether using deadly force is justified. The vast majority of times, the officer has only a split second to make that determination, not days, weeks or months like the Monday Morning Quarterbacks have.

When my eyesight stopped working and my mind was in the flashback, I wasn't aware of my surroundings, I wasn't conscious that something was wrong. No, I really thought I was facing the guy that wanted to kill me all over again.

As quickly as it came on, it abruptly went away. My heart was pounding in my chest. I was sweating and breathing heavily. My daughter sitting next to me knew something was wrong and said, "Daddy, are you okay?"

My experience with PTSD on that occasion was mild. For some, their symptoms can be debilitating and long-term. Even in mild cases, it can be highly destructive to normal, functional relationships. It makes those who suffer from it dysfunctional socially, distant and absent. It can also lead to drug and alcohol abuse because those who suffer from it are sometimes looking for anything they can find to make them feel again. And that's a vicious cycle where one problem feeds the other.


The reason I'm telling this story to you is simple: if you or someone you care about is experiencing symptoms of PTSD, please, I beg you to bring it out of the dark, talk about it with those you love, and seek help. The medical community is so much better trained and equipped now than even twenty years ago when I had my whirl around the block.

If you're a military veteran, check out this link and take the steps necessary to live a normal, full life again. If you're a cop or other first-responder, your agency has resources and material in place to help get things right again. If they don't, please, contact me personally and I will do everything in my power to help you and get you the attention you need and deserve. Society owes you a debt and I want to help make sure you live a long, healthy, productive, joyful life, so you can collect on that debt in full.


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