The Disabled American Veterans has written a letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., because of a recent statement she made that post-traumatic stress disorder "is a new phenomenon" and should be a factor in whether a veteran is allowed to own a gun.
In a nearly 900-word letter DAV Executive Director Barry A. Jesinoski said Feinstein’s comments are not accurate and only perpetuate a popular falsehood linking PTSD and violence.
"We ask that you clarify your statement to reassure people that you hold no such bias toward veterans or military service members," he said.
A DAV spokesman said the organization is not weighing in on Feinstein’s proposed assault-weapons legislation, but trying to correct misinformation.
Since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Connecticut on Dec. 14 lawmakers have been pushing for more restrictions who may own guns and what types of guns.
The AR-15, generally referred to as a civilian version of the Army’s M-16 rifle, has garnered particular attention, and some critics want to see a return to an outright ban on the rifle. An earlier ban was allowed to lapse in 2004 after being in effect for 10 years.
Feinstein made her remarks last week after Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, offered an amendment to the gun-ban that would provide exemptions for active-duty troops and veterans. Feinstein said that she was especially concerned over veterans being able to acquire the weapons.
"The problem with expanding this [exemption] is that … with the advent of PTSD, which I think is a new phenomenon as a product of the Iraq war, it's not clear how the seller will transfer the firearm covered by this bill to verify that an individual was a member [of the military] or a veteran and that there was no impairment of that individual with respect to having a weapon like this," she said.
She said proponents of an exemption for veterans would have to "find a way that veterans who are incapacitated for one reason or another mentally don’t have access to this kind of weapon."
Feinstein’s office did not respond to Military.com’s request for comment.
Jesinoski pointed out in his letter that the illness well predates the Iraq War.
"In truth, the signs and symptoms of PTSD have existed throughout human history, but [was] only formally recognized in the American medical literature beginning in the 1970s following the Vietnam War," he told the senator.
Jesinoski also said DAV is concerned because Feinstein’s remarks perpetuate the assumed linkage between PTSD and violence.
"We do not believe an assumption should be made based on anecdotal evidence that an individual diagnosed with PTSD should automatically be considered incapable of governing one’s anger and thoughts of violence," he wrote. "This kind of assumption fosters the social stigma and discrimination that challenges individuals in their efforts towards mental health rehabilitation and recovery."
That stigma has caused active-duty troops to try to hide problems from commanders and has long been a reason veterans avoid seeking help, he said. The DAV has been working against "all forms of stigma, especially if it is influenced by misinformation, lack of information or fear of the unknown," he said.