Recently, CNN published an article
concerning Thomas Bean, a member of the Newtown, CT Police Force and a first
responder of the Newtown Massacre, a tragedy that left 20 children and six Sandy
Hook Elementary School staff heinously murdered. The article brought to light
Officer Bean’s struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD ) and his
impending dismissal from the Police Force, as his precinct can no longer afford
to pay his long-term disability.
From a photo of Officer Bean or even a
meeting on the street, you would never know of his struggle with this
debilitating psychological injury.
PTSD does not scar the physical body
and it cannot be healed with surgery or stitches. But the haunting scenes of the
mass murder he witnessed at the elementary school continue to corrode his
personality, poison his sense of self, throw his world off balance and destroy
his ability to work and live as he did before December 14, 2012.
recent years, we have seen much progress with the general population’s ability
to understand and appreciate PTSD and the psychological effects of traumatic
However, the precinct’s response of dismissal and the
public’s response to the article published by CNN – quips like “This guy should
put on his big boy pants and get on with life” – show that significant strides
still need to be made in the comprehension of psychological injury.
Israel, an estimated nine percent of residents suffer from PTSD , three times
the level of residents in the US and other Western countries. We are all too
familiar with the impact of trauma and psychological injury on victims of
terror, soldiers, police, and whole communities that are forced to find refuge
in bomb shelters on a consistent basis.
As a country, we have survived
wars, rockets attacks, and acts of terror on our streets and in our homes, all
of which create a culture of fear and leave an overwhelming number of people
with deep psychological wounds.
While Israelis, in general, sympathize
with and seek to assist victims of trauma who bear these invisible scars, the
global community, purely as a consequence of the infrequency of terror attacks
in their countries, has yet to grapple with two extremely important
The first is understanding the destructive reach of PTSD . In
fact, just witnessing or hearing about a shocking event can trigger PTSD .
Psychological shrapnel can pierce one’s being, regardless of his physical
proximity to the actual event. As such, understanding the devastating effects of
trauma is key to ensuring that victims at all points on the trauma spectrum are
not mistreated of victimized further, like the case of Officer Bean.
second issue is developing a proper response to trauma. Unsolved, this issue is
nothing less than a grave injustice. To emphasize the point, let’s compare the
response to two different scenarios. If Officer Bean had sustained a gunshot
wound to his chest and had been classified as permanently disabled, his precinct
would not be able dismiss him from the force or take away his benefits. However,
since he is “only” psychologically disabled, he was ruthlessly dismissed from
the force, despite being equally incapacitated. And his employers and fellow
policemen have a clean conscience to boot! Since 1948, Israeli society has lived
under constant threat. No Israeli is untouched by terror or trauma, either
through personal bereavement or injury or by extension through a member of their
family or community.
As a nation, we understand trauma and accept it as a
norm. Our response to trauma comes from a true sense of empathy.
the empathy we feel for a person with visible injuries is still stronger than
the emotions felt for the sufferers of psychological trauma.
The State of
Israel has a well-developed response system that is executed by Bituach Leumi,
the National Welfare Institute, to assess, evaluate and provide disability
benefits to citizens injured in terror attacks. Each injury, physical or
psychological, is measured in a percentage matrix, from 20%- 100% disability,
with financial assistance provided accordingly.
While Israel is more
advanced in this field than any other country, there is still a lot of room for
For one thing, the system does not take into account
financial, professional, or emotional conditions that existed before the
From a social point of view, it is important that the
realities of life before the trauma and the impact on life after the fact are
However, fair monetary compensation is not the only thing
We believe that the ultimate response to psychological and
physical injuries or loss is the combination of financial, medical and
psychological support as well as the permanent, and reliable support of “a
professional friend,” someone to hold the victim’s hand an guide him through the
recovery process. In this area, as in many others, Israel could (and should)
become a light unto the nations, showing the proper way for a country to care
for its physically and psychologically wounded victims of terror
That said, we call on the governments and citizens of the world
to educate themselves and improve global awareness about the debilitating
effects of PTSD and other psychological injuries. Only after we understand the
painful consequences of PTSD will we be able to develop the ideal
We have a responsibility to take care of our emotionally
wounded and to ensure that when they cry out for help, we will be there to
respond appropriately. The scars of post trauma may be invisible, but our
support must be both visible and absolute.
The author is the co-founder
and chairman of OneFamily (www.onefamilytogether.org), Israel’s only
national organization solely dedicated to the rehabilitation of victims of
terror attacks and their families.