Veterans: Defeating ourselves, with the media’s help


Lauren Kay Johnson, Afghanistan veteran

A couple of days ago I read an article from the UK’s Daily Mail. It was about a young American veteran, Lauren Kay Johnson, and how service in Afghanistan affected her.

Since returning home three years ago, she’s lost interest in many things she used to enjoy. She feels like life here is trivial compared to military life in Afghanistan. She was diagnosed with Chronic Adjustment Disorder, which according to the article is “a milder form of PTSD”. She decided to get out of the military and learn to be a civilian. She now blogs about her life and struggles. According to that blog, she has a disability rating for Chronic Adjustment Disorder. I don’t know if that means she receives disability payments, although I suspect she does.

On its face, this sounds like the sad yet often-told story of a service member who goes to war, experiences unspeakable horrors, then returns home but can’t quite “fit in”. Many veterans, of all our wars, have experienced this. PTSD and adjustment disorders are serious problems, worth speaking and writing about. And yet, this story has done nothing but infuriate huge numbers of veterans. Including me.

So what’s the problem? Just this: Ms. Johnson served in Afghanistan as an Air Force Public Affairs Officer. According to her blog, she was never in combat.

Let me make a few things clear. First, I have nothing but respect for Ms. Johnson’s actual service. She’s being ripped apart as a liar on several web sites for saying in the article that she wore body armor and carried 225 rounds on missions. According to some veterans, AF Public Affairs people never leave the wire. I know for a fact that isn’t true. Ms. Johnson was on a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), which is made up of Army, Navy and Air Force personnel. I went on several missions with PRTs. They regularly go outside the wire, although not specifically to engage in combat. All the team’s troops are geared up and carry a full combat load. The PRT on my firebase before I arrived was in tons of combat, the first one I worked with was never in combat, the next one was in a handful of engagements and took a couple of IED strikes. PRT duty can be dangerous and Ms. Johnson has my admiration for serving in one. I don’t fault Johnson for not serving in a combat role.

However, I am mad that she cited these reasons for her “milder form of PTSD”:

1) “long hours”

2) “drab meals of dry meat and soggy vegetables”

3) “constant ‘paranoia’ that something could happen at any moment”

4) “Limited internet and phone service added to her feelings of vulnerability”

5) “sexual assault [was] a constant worry for her on the front line, because she ‘knew the stories’ and ‘overheard vulgar talk.’”

That’s it. That produced, according to her, a form of PTSD.

When I read that, I thought, “you have got to be f**king kidding me.” Sorry, but to have “post trauma” you have to have “trauma” in the first place. Call me evil and unsympathetic (and I’m sure many people will), but I don’t see how any of what Johnson described could possibly cause PTSD.

At this point, I’m sure someone is going to counter with, “Trauma is relative. Just because something didn’t affect you, that doesn’t mean it didn’t affect someone else.”

Fair point. In both the military and law enforcement worlds I’ve know people who just didn’t seem to be bothered by experiences any sane person would describe as traumatic. However, is there any limit to this? Since “only god can judge”, does that mean ANYTHING could be traumatic enough to produce PTSD?

Here’s a reductio ad absurdum example: When I was in Afghanistan, something truly devastating happened: Michael Jackson died.

Good god, people. I practically grew up hearing Michael’s voice. The man was the King of Pop. And he looked just like my white female best friend. If Michael was dead, what could possibly be worth fighting to defend? I was crushed, traumatized, left completely without an urge to go outside the wire and shoot Taliban. Now, since trauma is all relative, would I qualify as a PTSD patient?

Hopefully, the unanimous answer is “hell no.” Relative or not, there has to be a line somewhere.

I actually have tried to give Johnson the benefit of the doubt on this. It’s possible she was badly misquoted by the Daily Mail. Her blog does seem to have a pretty balanced view of PTSD, and illustrates her own doubts that she has it or should have it.

“Guilt – what right do I have to be linked with PTSD? I, who spent most of my deployment behind a desk, who was never shot at, who never shot at anyone, who was never blown up, who made it home safely with my entire unit. So many horrible things I didn’t experience. How can I be associated with veterans who did?

Weakness – maybe I am linked with those who suffered more, and because I suffered less but had a similar reaction, that makes me weak. They say everyone has a breaking point, maybe mine came sooner than most. Maybe I was never meant to be a soldier.”(

Sounds like Johnson herself doesn’t think she should have PTSD. However, since the Daily Mail published the article on October 4th, Johnson hasn’t published anything on her blog disputing DM’s reporting. She also hasn’t, as far as I know, issued a statement on any other forum challenging the article. As far as we know, she’s okay with this story about how her time not engaging in combat, having limited phone and internet service, working long hours and eating bland food has caused a disorder so severe she rates disability for it.

So guys, I’m torn here. On one hand, I’m trying to be even-keeled. Johnson obviously has a problem, she served her country honorably, and I should be happy that she’s speaking about it and getting the help she needs. It’s not for me to judge anyone else’s trauma. I should just be quiet and supportive.

On the other hand…

If you join the military during a war, don’t be shocked because you went to war. Military service demands a certain level of toughness; no, we don’t all have to be Captain Will Swenson or Salvatore Giunta. But we do expect long hours, crappy food, lack of communication with loved ones, and “vulgar talk”. And that’s just in peacetime. At war, those are the least of our problems. My uncles who jumped into Sicily/Normandy/Holland, or fought at the Chosin Reservoir, or died in the Bataan Death March, probably weren’t too concerned with how soggy their vegetables were. They might have actually had more important things to worry about, like not getting killed or not letting their friends die.

The public far too often buys into the “all those poor pitiful veterans have PTSD” fable. And crap like this doesn’t help. Whenever a veteran does something stupid, the media jumps onto the “PTSD-crazed veteran” bandwagon, even if the vet was just a run-of-the-mill moron who never served in combat. When Aaron Alexis committed the DC Navy Yard massacre, the media was quick to point out he was a Navy veteran who earned the “coveted” National Defense Service Medal. But Alexis never served in combat. Everyone gets a National Defense Service Medal just for being in the military during a war, whether you participated or not.

Articles about the recent traffic stop death of noncombat Army veteran John Van Allen garner numerous comments such as, “Looks like he was having a PTSD moment” ( Too much of the public, helped by too much of the media, assumes we’re all damaged from wartime service. Guys like me argue against that. Then Johnson comes along and tells everyone that even if you were safe your entire deployment, gosh darn it, you’re still screwed up.

Thanks, Ms. Johnson. Thanks for perpetuating the stupid stereotype about all of us being debilitated by our service. Thanks for managing to make us look like crybabies who can’t handle stress that even most high school kids could brush off. Nonsense like this is why I absolutely oppose giving Purple Hearts for PTSD. I don’t want someone to get one because they couldn’t even deal with non-life and death stress (

Now please show me I’m wrong. Please issue a statement condemning the Daily Mail article. Please tell everyone that you were badly misquoted, and that your easy deployment did not so horribly affect you.

And please, for the love of god, tell me that you’re not receiving disability payments because you had to eat soggy vegetables, hear vulgar talk and weren’t able to call home anytime you pleased.

UPDATE 10/9/2013:

Ms. Johnson has posted a condemnation of the Daily Mail article on her blog. According to her, DM didn’t even notify her that they were writing it, and took all her quotes from an essay she published in Glamour Magazine. Links to her blog post and the original Glamour essay are below. Please read both.

I will post another blog on this subject tomorrow and add a link to it.

43 Responses to “Veterans: Defeating ourselves, with the media’s help”

  1. 1 davidweller924304875


  2. 3 SPEMack

    Dear word, I had to endure soggy bacon. SOGGY BACON! And I would wait near the back of the line, and try to time a fresh pan of bacon coming out, but still have SOGGY BACON. (obviously bacon>vegetables)

    Reading this kinda makes me want to go repeatedly pound my head into my wall locker.

  3. 5 JimP

    Our Society celebrates victims, venerates weakness, and subsidizes the unproductive ….. of what social benefit is there to “rucking up and driving on” like generations of veterans have done before?

    She claims to have lost interest in things that used to interest her? Me, too: I grew up and stopped being so self centered. There is so much that needs to be done. Do some of it, Lady, as you have less time for it every day that passes.


    • Jim,

      Good observation. In modern American society, victims get overwhelming support, those who subscribe to the “ruck up and drive on” mindset are ridiculed as insensitive, cruel, etc.

      Unfortunately, the only rewards for valuing mental toughness are internal.

  4. 7 Scot Mantelli

    Chris, this is why you are the writer and not i. Being that you can speak from experience, yet still maintain a level of professionalism towards this woman, while critiquing the elements of the story is something i could never put to words. At least not in a manner people would want to read. Great piece!! Will definitely be sharing it

    • Thanks Scot. But I bet you could also write a balanced, well thought out response to a story like this. I’d like to read what you have to say.

      • 9 Scot

        I guess what I meant to say was that I couldn’t have said almost exactly what you did any better. I don’t mean for that to be a cop out of writing out my thoughts, and i’ll do my best in the future to put forth an actual response. But especially after reading some of the additions to the comments at the bottom, it would appear that the original article did paint this situation in a more dramatic light than it actually was/is. I applaud this girl’s fiance for speaking his mind in his response in a civilized manner, to point out that more details are still forthcoming. I’d love to give this girl the benefit of a doubt, if for nothing else, for the sake of the reputations of the many others who are also serving, or have served.

  5. 10 Nate

    If she truly felt guilt and really felt weak, why would she blog about it and then give an interview? I’d think the expected backlash would only compound her issues.

    I read the article a few days ago and honestly thought I had just read something from the duffleblog.

    • Nate,

      I seriously don’t think she expected anything but sympathy from the story. She’s probably quite taken aback by much of the response. I don’t wish anything negative on her, but I hope this has been a wake up call. Maybe she’ll say what a female soldier said to me one day: “Sergeant, just say it. I’m being a drama queen, aren’t I?”

  6. Good write-up/response Chris.

  7. It is tragic, not just for our country, but as well for the current and future generations coming up. I agree with JimP except for one thing…society in general is not the culprit. It is a specific ideology furthered by extremely calculating, power hungry leaders utilizing well meaning, misguided and naïve “useful idiots” to further an agenda.
    A great deal of effort has gone into separating citizens from the American traditions of self reliance, overcoming hardship, self discipline, personal accountability and the hungry quest for excellence. The fact that it seems to be society as a whole is reflective of how insidious and successful this ideology has usurped the principles that founded this country. Actual American history and civics is no longer being taught for a reason.

    If I could tell Ms. Johnson anything, it would be to thank her for beginning the journey of truly becoming an American in the sense that the Founders thought about it and to not stop now! Suffering, self denial and serving a purpose higher than oneself is what built great Americans in the beginning and will continue to do so. Dealing with and overcoming suffering, unpleasantness and discomfort, rather than being tragic, are the honor badges earned along the way of evolving into a better human being of value to the country and fellow human beings.

    Those in society who deny people that understanding are either those involved in the intentional destruction of America as we know it or are the tools used by those people to betray their heritage in ignorance.

    • Juli,

      I don’t think the victim mentality is the result of any organized effort. I think it’s something that started in the 60’s as a backlash against the traditional order, and grew uncontrollably from there. That’s just my gut feeling though. Whether organized or not, it is stripping us of one of our greatest strengths.

  8. 16 Gary H

    To be fair, she is kind of hot

  9. 20 Bart Noir

    Those 5 items…

    I thought she was referring to boot camp.

    • That was way too mild to be my boot camp. The Corps was still pretty brutal in 89.

      Some deployments are easy, and there’s nothing wrong with that. She should just be proud of her service, and move on.

  10. Sounds like my tour in Korea in the mid-80’s, although I wasn’t concerned about sexual assault myself, I did have to mediate some situations with some of my female troops.

    As for the “constant ‘paranoia’ that something could happen at any moment”, try having a RADAR repeater show multiple (as in the entire NKAF) mach+ tracks heading south across the DMZ and and not being told it was a “training tape” until your third call to primary sources (the first scrambling alert fighters, the second telling the airborne recon birds to get the hell out of dodge). Or the days the NKAF decide to see just how close they could make their turns on the DMZ with entire fighter regiments. Or the night the ROKS found cut barbed wire at one of their airbase perimeter fences.

    And here I thought I had a cushy assignment since I was not on the DMZ and had hard quarters and and a real BX. I’m obviously repressing my PTSD and am in denial.

    Seriously, good write up Chris. I too try to not come down hard on folks suffering, but sometimes you just want to say Jeeze Louise!

    • Randy,

      I wish more people knew just how nuts the DMZ can really be. I heard lots of stories from Marines who were there, I wish I had at least been able to see it once.

      Glad to hear you were crippled for life by the fear you felt at the DMZ. 🙂

  11. Until a few thousand women veterans start writing her and telling her to STFU, they’ll all rack up an across the board can’t-cut-it rap because of people like Johnson, who is yet another special snowflake too tender for the real world.

    The only thing she deserves from the VA is a gift certificate from Build-A-Bear for her own personal teddy to squeeze, and sincere wish that she stops whining and gets a life.

    I would ask what, exactly, the Air Force is doing to so signally fail to prepare their officers for war, when soggy veggies and limited internet are seen as some sort of shocking high-stress situation. For most people, that’s just life during high school. One fevently hopes she’s the sole miserable example among thousands of decent officers. But I tend to think it’s like cockroaches: for every one you see, there are another ten you don’t.

    • I think the vets she pissed off most are females. Plenty of them have responded angrily, and at least one has written to the Daily Mail in protest.

      But unfortunately I agree with you, there are tons of people out there who either truly can’t hack it or (more likely, IMO) see an easy way to milk the system for free money when they get home.

  12. As a “retired” USAF aircraft mechanic, I find that woman’s story most annoying. She besmirches combat veterans with actual problems, she brings discredit upon the USAF, and she comes off as just whiny. I went to the Gulf region a few times, and the conditions weren’t the comforts of home by any means, but no one ever shot at me or tried to blow me up and I NEVER make claim to being any sort of hero because all I did was my job. My brother-in-law IS an Army combat veteran with some serious sandbox time under his belt…and HE makes no claims of being a hero, either, and doesn’t try to get folks to feel sorry for him. I find your article to be an excellent take on the matter. Thank you for your service.

    • Thanks for your service as well, Patriot. I think there’s a lot of pride in NOT being a hero. All I did was my job, just a “spear carrier, third from left”, nobody special. Being just another Joe helping the overall effort is one of my life’s proudest accomplishments.

  13. 28 BobF

    You HAD to have missed something, so I read the Daily Mail article. Nope, I saw the same thing. Then I read the linked blog post. Same result. Then I read her OTHER blog posts.

    I see her as a melodramatic (if I may use that as a noun) with a secret desire to be the heroine while not wanting to admit it. And if she wants to take that role, I say go for it. But NOT this way. Her way is at the cost of a lot of honorable people and possibly at the financial cost of even more.

    If she wants a cookie she’ll ask for it and add, “I didn’t have a big breakfast, you know.” Look, sweetheart, if you want a cookie, just take it; don’t write a novella justifying why you should have it and an icing of sympathy, all along protesting pure innocence of intent with a “Who, meeeeee?” look…

    I’m not sure she ever had any,but she needs to just pull the big girl panties on up and get on with life. She pisses me off. I’ve been assigned with one of her type before and it wasn’t fun.

    Geez, did I type all that with 2 fingers?!

  14. When I first saw the daily mail article I had to double check that it wasn’t originally from DuffelBlog. Poe’s Law strikes again.

    • Not surprisingly, a LOT of people have said the same thing. “This has to be satire.” Unfortunately, it seems to be true. Maybe I’m wrong and I just got trolled. If I did, I’ll give credit where it’s due.

  15. 32 Mike_C

    Agree with JimP and Nate. Not sure how much I agree with Juli’s point, but it probably is true that for some particularly cynical and frankly evil people inculcating the victim mentality and the “we are all somehow disabled/damaged” meme (similar, but not the same thing exactly) is a deliberate agenda. Just not sure how prevalent that is. I do strongly agree that the vast majority of those pushing those agendas are merely useful idiots.

    Unfortunately those useful idiots seem to be over-represented in things like HR* in companies and the soft(-headed) specialties in academia. And they are gaining influence and power. Most places there are severe repercussions if you refuse to attend an indoctrination session.

    *And jeez but I hate the term Human Resources. I am not a goddamned tin deposit or what have you to be exploited. I am personnel, one who entered into a voluntary and mutually terminable agreement with the organization to perform certain tasks in return for other valuable considerations. I am not a “resource.”

  16. 33 miserylovescompany

    I discovered this blog but a few days ago by way of TTAG and working with the French. Good reading. Naturally I noticed this entry, and felt compelled to comment.

    FYI: I’m not in the service, although most of my family wore USAF blue, and I have a cousin who’s a naval officer, currently stationed at Yokosuka. But me, I’m just a stereotypical old fat white guy who happens to be deaf (hence my lack of service) and works in retail. Hardly much to crow about.

    But since this lady has a soapbox (and in the Air Force, no less), I’ll ask her if she’s had a few traumas or not:

    Has she lived in a car for 6 weeks? Doubt it.

    Has she ever had to talk someone out of suicide at a previous job in mental health care? No? Well I have…twice.

    Saw death, destruction over there? Oh, but I have too – saw 2 kids in a 350Z killed right in my rearview mirror when they lost control in a curve and hit a brand new Tundra going sideways at 60mph. Another second or few miles an hour slower, and I would have been that Tundra. I’ve also seen the aftermath of a fatality accident involving a semi truck and small car that left a kid dead. Not pretty.

    That’s just off the top of my head. There’s a lot of crappy things about my life I could bitch about for hours and hours. Stuff to do with my hearing and such, but I think you get the point.

    Life. Is. Not. Fair.

    Seeing as she appears to have all her limbs intact and apparently no other tangible internal trauma, about all I’d say she’s suffering from is feeling sorry for herself. So, let me repeat….

    Life. Is. Not. Fair. Now get the fuck over it and move on, woman!

    That will be all for now, thank you.


  17. 34 ColinDHalloran

    Thanks for having a well-thought out, well-written response to this situation instead of piling onto the bigoted, inappropriate commenting that’s been so pervasive over the last 72 hours. Lauren did post a response on her blog yesterday ( and because the Daily Mail so grossly took her quotations out of context, Glamour is making the entirety of her essay available online beginning today. A full response from Lauren will also be published, and I’ll provide you the link here when it is available. She doesn’t care about people saying hurtful things about her. What she’s concerned about is how the Daily Mail’s misrepresentation of her and her work is hurting other veterans, in particular female vets, and she is doing everything in her power to set the record straight.

    • Colin,

      I appreciate your comment, and the additional information. I have read both her announcement and the original essay on Glamour, and will update my post with links to them. Also, after reading MikeC’s comment below, I will also assume you are Ms. Johnson’s fiance. From one gentleman to another, I applaud you for defending the woman you love, and for doing it in an intelligent, mature manner. I agree that many of the comments about her on other sites have been offensive, immature and/or just flat-out stupid.

      The Glamour essay and blog posts definitely do not come across as “whiny” as the Daily Mail article. I appreciate the fact that Lauren knows she didn’t suffer like many other veterans did. However, certain things about the Glamour essay still bother me. I will address those in another post.

      You and Lauren are welcome to speak here anytime. Thanks and best of luck to you both.


  18. 36 Robert Lamm

    It seems all those things could have happened to her before she got off the airplane.

  19. 38 Mike_C

    So I just read the full piece in Glamour magazine as well as some recent entries from Ms Johnson’s blog and am forming a modified take. The slightly fuller impression (because how much can you really know about someone from a blog — where if they have any sense, they put forth only the stuff they want you to see?) I’m getting is of a basically nice and decent young person who has her head screwed on straight on at least a thing or two. Really, read those links. Given their dates prior to the current shitstorm, they certainly aren’t damage control and spin. Or if Lt Johnson is that cunning and prescient she should be a strategic advisor somewhere instead of in school getting an Arts degree.

    Personally I think the Glamour article contains a bit too much public navel gazing but that may be a generational thing. Yet for all I know it may be more effective in getting the intended audience (not that I know anything about the kind of people who take things such as Glamour seriously, so yes, I’m stereotyping out of ignorance) to think about veteran’s issues positively: Why, nice pretty girls going to school in a cool town* who have a future and a fiancé can be affected — like this stuff can hurt real people! Maybe I should care about these things!

    It seems pretty clear from prior blog entries that Ms Johnson isn’t pushing for a diagnosis of PTSD and doesn’t seem to be claiming that her issues are on par with, say someone who lost limbs or has TBI. That said, I still think there is an excess of navel gazing in the Glamour piece. She’s in a decent school, she’s apparently physically intact and healthy, seems intelligent and looks nice, she has a fiancé or husband who cares enough to track down threads such as this one (I am assuming that is you, ColinDHalloran above) and put in a good word. That’s way more than many people ever get in life, CAD/PTSD or no. Problems have a tendency to expand in our heads until they occupy maximal space, that’s normal human psychology, and I certainly have no right to decree how much Lauren Johnson can bear, but from my very peripheral perspective it seems like she’s ahead in the game of life compared to the average person. The issues in the Glamour essay strike me as the sort of thing that you discuss with friends you trust to keep your confidences private, lest your problems come across as whining** if made public. But in this era of TMI on Facebook and tweets such as “eating steel-cut oatmeal now because have high cholesterol and prone to constipation” boundaries have changed. (On the other hand, if this was all a deliberate “Any attention is good attention” ploy then I’m disgusted. Doesn’t really strike me as such though.)

    * As a more than decade-long Boston area resident, the place is over-rated.
    ** Doesn’t make them not real problems in an absolute sense, but it’s important to consider them relative to other veterans’ problems for proper perspective.

    PS: on the chance that Lauren or Colin actually wade through all this: Just because some counsellor tentatively diagnoses you with PTSD — forget the exact post — doesn’t mean you have it. I know many fine health professionals in the VA system (really), but also lazy, incompetent hacks. Plus too much of the psychological stuff is unfortunately fuzzy and ill-defined and seems to attract whackos (the practitioners, that is) in droves. Good psych people are priceless, but there are also those out there I wouldn’t trust to feed a goldfish for a weekend. (And those bastards are hard to kill.)

  20. 39 Redleg

    Wow, based on her standards for PTSD my time serving in Germany during the Cold War should qualify because you know, the Reds could have poured through the Fulda Gap at any moment and that was constantly hanging over my head. The uncertainty of the 3 AM alerts where we drew our war reserves, combat loaded our vehicles, and rolled out to our designated fighting positions where we never knew if it was real or training until Endex was a more traumatic experience than her story. We all knew we were nothing better than a speed bump until REFORGER could be implemented.

    Hell, excluding my deployments over 15 years of service, just my 60 days of back to back training at both Grafenwohr (live fire) and Hohenfels against the OPFOR was more traumatic than what this lady endured. Training at Hohenfels to counter the Soviet Air land Battle Doctrine for thirty days twice a year consisted of 3 hours of sleep a night, murmited weak ass green eggs and soggy bacon for breakfast in portions so small that they still left you hungry (at least I always had as much coffee as I could drink though), MRE for lunch, and T-Ration for dinner. Shoot, move and communicate all day long consisting of about 6 daily battery moves and six hasty fighting positions dug every single day. Damn I hated digging! I got sent back to the rear area one night to go to a meeting at the TOC and sleep in a GP medium tent and sleeping bag over night…and Murphy came for a visit. The OPFOR happened to attack the BN TOC that night and I ended up out in my fighting position in my brown Army underwear, combat boots, LBE, helmet and my weapon fighting off an OPFOR attack in the rain. Oh, did I also mention that I did this in my underwaer in the mud (I knew I should have slept in my BDUs that night). Anyway, as you can see, my routine training was worse than her real world experiences (and I haven’t even touched on NTC and Twenty Nine Palms rotations nor my time spent in the 10th Mountain Division or 66 below zero at Fort Drum wher we did PT in the snow and slush even when it was 20 below outside).

    Color me unimpressed at her suffering.

    This is the kind of crap that always made the combat arms guys I served with despise the Air Force. They don’t have the first idea of what true hardship is.

    • 40 Redleg

      Actually, I need to amend my statement above. The forward air controllers assigned to us in the 10th were always right there humping alongside us (and they were even wearing 10th Mountain Patches) and we respected them because they shared our hardships but then they didn’t have anything good say about the regular Air Force either.

  21. 41 P

    Pfft. I hope this worthless excuse of a woman suffers for this stupidity.

  1. 1 Military | Grumpy Bastard
  2. 2 This Veteran’s Day: PTSD, my eye | WeaponsMan

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