Update on Lauren Kay Johnson, AF veteran
A few days ago I published a post about Lauren Kay Johnson, an Air Force veteran of the War on Terror (https://chrishernandezauthor.com/2013/10/07/veterans-defeating-ourselves-with-the-medias-help/). The Daily Mail newspaper in the UK had written a story about her problems adjusting after her Afghanistan deployment. It also said she had a “milder form of PTSD”, and provided a list of reasons for that PTSD. The reasons included dry meat, soggy vegetables, long hours, and limited internet access.
The reasons were, to put it mildly, utter nonsense. They can barely be described as minor annoyances. This article enraged many veterans, including me, because in my opinion it celebrated the “everyone’s a victim” culture and portrayed veterans, especially females, as weak-minded whiners.
Yesterday Ms. Johnson posted a condemnation of the Daily Mail article on her blog. According to her, DM’s writer took all the quotes from an essay she published in Glamour Magazine. Johnson says, “The ‘author’ of that ‘article’ took a random assortment of quotes from my blog and the Glamour essay and smushed them together for her ‘story,’ changing the context and the tone.” Links to Johnson’s blog post and the original Glamour essay are below. Please read both.
First, I applaud Ms. Johnson for making an effort to correct what appears to be horribly crappy journalism from the Daily Mail. According to Johnson, she was never even notified a story was being written about her, and the quotes were taken out of context. As a past media victim myself, I have no reason to doubt Johnson’s claim.
Second, I definitely see a difference in tone between Johnson’s Glamour essay and the DM article. I have no doubt the DM writer made a deliberate effort to give Johnson’s words a more emotional twist than Johnson intended. In the Glamour essay Johnson stresses that she did not experience anything traumatic in Afghanistan.
One thing she wrote that resonated with me was her loss of confidence in the overall mission. “And I didn’t expect the disappointment. I volunteered thinking I’d be part of an effort that made a noticeable difference. We did celebrate some small victories. But what I noticed most was corruption winding through every layer of Afghan society, crisscrossed by a growing barricade of U.S. red tape. If we couldn’t make progress, the danger and paranoia were for nothing.”
I know exactly how she feels. After one particularly tragic loss, I had to come to terms with that same loss of idealism. And idealism dies hard. Johnson did well to put that feeling into words.
Kudos to her for all of the above. But now, here’s the bad part.
The Daily Mail may have spun Johnson’s words to make them more emotional than she intended; however, she did say them. All of them. She did talk about dry meat and soggy vegetables, “vulgar talk”, and feeling isolated with limited phone and internet service. While she stresses that she was never in combat, she does describe certain non-events as if they contributed to her adjustment issues.
“[Paranoia] was there every time I strapped on 60 pounds of body armor and climbed into an armored vehicle that might as well have been labeled in bright block letters: U.S. MILITARY CONVOY. AIM HERE.” As a former convoy escort team member who faced IEDs and small arms fire in Iraq, that irks me on a personal level. Yes, convoys could be dangerous. According to Johnson, hers weren’t. Apparently, none of her missions put her in mortal danger.
She mentions tragic incidents, like a pregnant Afghan woman who was killed during a Special Operations mission, and the accidental deaths of friends, as contributing to her adjustment issues. Yet accidents can happen anywhere, and you don’t have to serve in Afghanistan to hear about civilian deaths. Yes, those incidents could certainly affect someone. Civilians read bad news and lose friends to accidents too. Perhaps Johnson’s problems really don’t have anything to do with her military service; if she had mentioned that possibility in her essay, many veterans might not have such negative feelings about it.
Johnson also says this: “I’m thankful every day that I didn’t ‘witness or experience an event that involved threatened or actual serious injury or death.’” That also irks me. If you never want to experience danger, why join the military? The country we serve rightfully expects us to be a barrier against danger. To do that effectively, we have to embrace that danger. Troops who go on every mission desperately wishing “Please god, don’t let us get hit” tend to be ineffective when they do get hit, because they’re already on the defensive.
I realize not every veteran feels this way, but I’ll say it anyway: I’m damn thankful I experienced multiple dangerous events. I chose that danger, and embraced it. I’m thankful even for the bad days. I look back on those we lost, and feel humbled just by having been in their presence. When I hear a veteran who voluntarily joined up express gratitude at always being safe, it makes me question their reason for serving. It’s almost like hearing a former astronaut say, “Thank god I never had to go into space.”
The above complaints are minor. The next one is serious.
I would like to know if Johnson is in fact receiving disability. Of course, she has no obligation to tell me. But according to the essay, Johnson is successfully completing college courses, has loving relationships with her pets and fiance and will be married soon. She appears to be physically fit and doesn’t mention medical problems in her essay. From her blog we already know she has a disability rating for Chronic Adjustment Disorder, which she describes as “PTSD lite”. So is she receiving disability? If so, why? She certainly doesn’t appear to be disabled in any way. If someone never served in combat, was never in any danger, doesn’t have any physical issues related to their service, is happily in love and is leading a productive, successful life, why are they receiving disability pay?
This is something I’ve written about before. Far too many vets are milking the system for money, because it’s so easy. To me, it’s shameful. Johnson herself talks about veterans who actually did experience horrors of war, and those who came home horribly scarred. She knows her experience and problems don’t compare to theirs (and for the record, neither do mine). So if she knows this, why accept money and why further jam the VA system, when other vets are in serious need of help?
Ms. Johnson, I hope to hear your response.
Filed under: Afghanistan | 19 Comments
Tags: Afghanistan, daily mail, glamour magazine, lauren kay johnson, PTSD