Feinstein Calls PTSD a ‘New Phenomenon,’ Says No ‘Assault Weapons’ for Military Veterans

By Fred Lucas | March 12, 2013 | 10:09 AM EDT

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

(CNSNews.com) – Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – a condition diagnosed in some form since the Civil War and which has gone by its current name since 1980 – is a relatively “new phenomenon” stemming from the 2003 Iraq war.

Feinstein also said she wants to make sure that veterans “who are incapacitated for one reason or another mentally don’t have access” to semi-automatic weapons.

Feinstein, at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee last Friday, was discussing an amendment to her gun control bill that would exempt retired military from the so-called “assault weapons” ban:

“The problem with expanding this (exemption) is that, you know, 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 or transferrer of a firearm covered by this bill would verify that an individual was a member, or a veteran, and that there was no impairment of that individual with respect to having a weapon like this. So you know, I would be happy to sit down with you again and see if we could work something out but I think we have to — if you’re going to do this, find a way that veterans who are incapacitated for one reason or another mentally don’t have access to this kind of weapon.”

PTSD is “an anxiety disorder that some people get after seeing or living through a dangerous event,” according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

It is not limited to military, but was first recognized as a problem for U.S. veterans going back to the Civil War when it was called “soldier’s heart.” In World War I it was called “shell shock,” and it was called “battle fatigue” in World War II, according to the group Military with PTSD. The name post-traumatic stress disorder become common in 1980 in the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders.

Feinstein’s bill banning semi-automatic weapons would allow police officers and retired police officers to have the guns.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) proposed an amendment to allow members of the military and military veterans to also be exempt.

“Members and veterans of the armed forces are the most highly trained and qualified individuals to own these weapons for self-defense purposes,” Cornyn said. “We should think long and hard before disarming these heroes preventing them from protecting their families and their communities.”

Feinstein’s objection offended some military veterans, who believe she was suggesting they can’t be trusted because of they all have PTSD.

Cornyn told Feinstein that PTSD sufferers are already prohibited by law from owning guns: “And I think it’s a mistake to paint so broadly as to say any active duty military or veterans can’t use these kind of weapons or any other lawful weapons for self-defense. Certainly, I wouldn’t want to suggest that we think people who served in the military all suffer from some debilitating illness.”

The same day Feinstein made the remark, Shawn J. Gourley, co-founder of the group Military with PTSD and author of The War at Home: One Family’s Fight Against PTSD, sent a letter to the senator.

“PTSD is a psychological reaction that occurs after an extremely stressful event involving the threat of injury or death. Anyone can get PTSD at any age,” Gourley’s letter to Feinstein said. “This includes war veterans, police officers, firemen, and survivors of physical and sexual assault, abuse, accidents, disasters, and many other serious events. So as you can see, Senator, with all due respect, PTSD is not exclusive to either veterans in general or specifically veterans of the Iraq War.”

The letter says nearly 30 percent of the 834,463 Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans treated at VA hospitals and clinics have been diagnosed with PTSD.

It notes that Feinstein’s bill contains an exemption for retired law enforcement officers, an estimated 18 percent of whom are suffering from PTSD, according to a 2012 CBS News report.

Gourley asked Feinstein: “Why are 100 percent of veterans being stripped of the right to own these types of firearms because of ‘no way to verify that there was no impairment of that individual,’ that might affect only 30 percent of that population, but you seem to have no problem allowing assault weapons to law enforcement officers, of which 18 percent may be suffering from this same ‘impairment,’ as you say?

“PTSD in a veteran is the equivalent of PTSD in law enforcement officers. They all have the same symptoms.”