Author Page | Media Matters for America

Lisa Reed

Author ››› Lisa Reed
  • The Junk Science Behind Michael Savage's Attacks On Military Troops With PTSD

    Blog ››› ››› LISA REED

    Last week, Michael Savage leveled his latest in a long string of attacks on Americans with mental illness and the medical community that works to help them. After a veteran caller with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) expressed support for the city of San Francisco naming a bridge after the late Robin Williams, the right-wing radio host announced that he is "so sick and tired of everyone with their complaints about PTSD, depression," asserting that it's a sign of a "weak, sick, broken nation."

    According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), approximately 5.2 million adults have PTSD within a given year. As of 2012, mental illness was the leading reason for active-duty hospitalizations in the military, and the VA estimates that up to 20 percent of veterans who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars since 2001 suffer from PTSD. For veterans who left the military between October 2002 and July 2011, nearly 200,000 had a provisional diagnosis for PTSD, not including those who went undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. And the Institute of Medicine reported in June that "PTSD is the third most common major service-connected disability after hearing loss and ringing of the ears."

    PTSD isn't just a combat-related injury. It can result from various traumatic incidents, ranging from child abuse to car accidents to muggings to sexual assault. A fight-or-flight response can be triggered by things that remind the survivor of her trauma, or things that catch the person off-guard, like bright lights or loud noises. Often those with PTSD experience flashbacks, where memories and feelings associated with past trauma come rushing back as if the trauma was happening all over again.

    The Painful Reality Of PTSD

  • The Right-Wing Media's Misogyny Has A True Cost For The U.S. Military

    Blog ››› ››› LISA REED

    Mariam Al Mansouri And Eric Bolling

    Military veterans are taking a stand against a Fox News host's labeling of a female pilot from the United Arab Emirates who bombed Islamic State militants as "boobs on the ground." On September 27, Truman National Security Project veterans published an open letter addressing Fox's sexism toward Maj. Mariam al-Mansouri, stating that the remarks aired on the conservative TV network "were unwarranted, offensive, and fundamentally opposed to what the military taught us to stand for."

    The letter serves as a reminder that many women face sexism in the military on a regular basis, a situation that is only worsened by right-wing media programs that air on U.S. bases around the world.

    And herein lie the real consequences of misogyny in right-wing media for the U.S. military.

    During my time in the Air Force in the early 2000s, I remember regularly seeing Fox on the TV at work and hearing Limbaugh's angry rants blasting from the radio. Now imagine being a woman in this atmosphere in the last few years, when Limbaugh repeatedly labeled Sandra Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute" and Fox hosts referred to a female pilot as "boobs on the ground" and suggested she "couldn't park" her jet. Add that to the fact that many of these shows are aired on bases around the world using taxpayer money, and the situation quickly becomes too much to stomach.

    From my experiences as a woman who served in Air Force combat units both overseas and in the United States, I can say that sexist rhetoric from Fox host Eric Bolling and other conservative media figures makes the challenges that women already face while serving even more difficult.

    My first major wake-up call to how women were perceived in the armed forces took place shortly after I enlisted, while I was training for my position as an intelligence apprentice. I was introduced to terms like "M&Ms," which stood for "Marine mattresses," used to describe the female airmen who got involved with the male Marines on our base. When I was deployed to Kuwait, I learned of other labels reserved solely for women who were perceived to be getting a lot of attention from men or being "slutty," like "Desert Queen" and "Desert Fox." Any quick online search for military slang reveals numerous variations of the "military women are promiscuous objects that men use" theme.

  • A College Rape Survivor Responds To George Will's "Coveted Status" Remarks

    Blog ››› ››› LISA REED

    George Will

    Washington Post columnist George Will recently asserted that the 1 in 5 women who experience sexual assault in college has a "coveted status":

    They are learning that when they say campus victimizations are ubiquitous ("micro-aggressions," often not discernible to the untutored eye, are everywhere), and that when they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate.


    Now the Obama administration is riding to the rescue of "sexual assault" victims. It vows to excavate equities from the ambiguities of the hookup culture, this cocktail of hormones, alcohol and the faux sophistication of today's prolonged adolescence of especially privileged young adults.

    This tasteless rhetoric wholly reflects conservative media's standard messaging on sexual assault survivors, which has only increased in absurdity since the White House in January created a task force to combat the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses. As one of the millions of women who have experienced assault firsthand, Will's statement sent chills down my spine and ignited a desire to raise my voice in the public sphere along with all the other women who refuse to sit still while sexual violence is downplayed.

    I won't be going into detail about my rape and multiple instances of sexual assault throughout my life. It's vital to discuss how rhetoric like Will's has been used for years to silence those of us who weren't allowed to choose all of our sexual partners -- and the severity of the consequences of the widespread assault that right-wing media are mocking.

    According to a White House report, nearly 22 million women and 1.6 million men have been raped. To put it another way: every 2 minutes (probably less time than it will take for you to read this post) an American is sexually assaulted. The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) states that two-thirds of rapes were committed by people that the victim knew, and 97% of rapists won't ever see the inside of a jail cell (increasing the chance that they'll do it again).  

    But according to conservative media figures, these experiences are fraudulent and over-hyped "victim hoaxes." They claim that even speaking about how many women are assaulted is a "war on men." We all remember Todd Akin's repulsive "legitimate rape" comments, and are acutely aware of how many times we've been informed that we brought sexual assault upon ourselves -- by our behavior, our dress, or the situations we put ourselves in. Media and political figures' consistent rejection of the reality of sexual violence highlights the importance of countering this denial and these lies with every resource that we can muster.

    The deep ramifications of sexual assault would disturb anyone who has sympathy for those who are involuntarily forced to undergo mental or physical pain. Because of trauma, many rape survivors can be left feeling unable to handle the normal challenges of everyday life, due to fear, anxiety, and depression. If certain symptoms last long enough, it's called post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. I can speak to this not just because I have PTSD, but because I've been a patient in a trauma unit for a total of almost two months, where every day I heard the stories of the other patients, a vast majority of whom were women that had undergone either short or long-term sexual abuse.  

    When people think of PTSD, usually they see it in relation to the military. But PTSD can be created in a number of other situations, often including a person being forced to endure abuse because they are physically or emotionally restrained, or because they're not old enough to change their living situation. Regardless, all people with PTSD have one thing in common: a "fight, flight or freeze" response to situations that catch them off-guard or remind them of prior abuse. Many factors can trigger this response, be it loud noises, bright lights, or even hearing language that is similar to what their abuser used. Some survivors can't stand being in a room with a door that's left open, or they see things on TV that cause flashbacks where they go back to a time and place that they never wanted to see again. Some people won't set foot in a shower because just being in that environment brings back a flood of memories, and often those with PTSD can't sleep well because the nightmares won't end.

    The effects of PTSD and response to triggers vary from person to person. For many, a blanket of depression interferes with being able to go to work, socialize with friends, or even leave the house. It can be difficult for trauma survivors to remain calm in a crowded and noisy room that can quickly become incredibly overwhelming. Many people remain in a constant state of guilt, apologizing for everything, regardless of if they actually did anything wrong. And some simply shut down. They disassociate from reality, and fall into a state that can be likened to an out-of-body experience. And of course, intentional self-harm by those with PTSD is commonplace, because it makes them feel something when they can't feel anything else, or because they genuinely believe that they deserve that pain. It can act as a "pressure-valve" when tensions are high, and for some, it's how they communicate when they can't cry out, or perhaps they did cry out, but nobody listened.

  • Media Silent As Female Veterans Battle Unemployment

    Blog ››› ››› LISA REED

    The economy and national security have been two of the most significant issues facing the United States in recent weeks, and the intersection of those issues -- veteran employment -- should be an important component in media coverage of the economic recovery. But unlike much of America and their male counterparts, female veterans are suffering from a deteriorating employment situation -- and the media are ignoring it.

    Female SoldiersGiven how negatively right-wing media figures have reacted to the mere discussion of women's rights -- see Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and Bill O'Reilly's steady attacks on Georgetown law graduate Sandra Fluke -- it's no surprise that the issue of female veterans' unemployment has taken a back seat in the media.

    Finding employment after my own service in the Air Force was no small feat. Like many veterans, I faced psychological challenges transitioning from serving in the military to civilian life. I certainly had no idea that the years of struggles I faced finding employment resonated with tens of thousands of women across the country.

    While overall veteran employment improves, nearly one in five women who served during the Afghanistan or Iraq wars are without adequate employment. NBC's Bill Briggs illustrates the overall situation:

    As the U.S. troop drawdown continues in Afghanistan, the unemployment rate for post-9/11 female vets surged to 19.9 percent in September, compared to 14.7 percent a year earlier and 12.1 percent in August.

    Multiple factors may be contributing to hardship for women veterans. Perhaps the most obvious is that more women than ever are enlisted, so more female vets are returning to civilian life. Fifteen percent of homecoming U.S. troops are women.

    But even with the increasing number of women serving in the military, women veterans aren't perceived the same way as men returning from war. John E. Pickens of VeteransPlus, a nonprofit that provides veterans with financial counseling, described this unique challenge:

    "Typically, folks look at male veterans returning as warriors who we need to honor, and say we need to do what we can for these warriors. Women, unfortunately, don't carry home that same mantel as a warrior. But they certainly have served beside the men and, in many cases, have done a lot of things that put themselves as risk."

    Given the value female veterans can bring to America's workforce, it is critical that the media focus attention on their unemployment crisis and explore possible explanations for the disparity. This could prompt broad policy debates on topics like health care, homelessness, and sexual assault.

  • EXCLUSIVE: A Veteran Confronts NRA's Keene Over Law That Endangers Troops

    Blog ››› ››› LISA REED

    At the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) earlier this month, I had the opportunity to speak with David Keene, president of the National Rifle Association (NRA). As an Air Force veteran myself, I was specifically interested in learning more about the NRA's support of an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2011.

    What the NRA describes as a "pro-Second Amendment provision" is legislation that prohibits the Defense Department from "collecting or recording any information relating to the otherwise lawful acquisition, possession, ownership, carrying, or other use of a privately owned firearm." In short, the amendment, signed into law along with the underlying act in January 2011, bars commanders from even questioning their troops about privately-owned firearms kept off-base.

    The NRA's involvement with this defense legislation rose more than a few eyebrows. Senior military leaders reportedly say the "law will make it virtually impossible to get private weapons out of the hands of some potentially suicidal soldiers." The Christian Science Monitor reported that General Peter Chiarelli, the 2nd ranking officer for the Army, "expressed concern...that this law amounts to a prohibition on commanders engaging in vital discussions with US soldiers about weapons and personal safety":

    "I am not allowed to ask a soldier who lives off post whether that soldier has a privately owned weapon," he says.

    While commanders are permitted to ask troops who appear to be a danger to themselves or others about private firearms - or to suggest perhaps locking them temporarily in a base depot - if the soldier denies that he or she is thinking about harming anyone, then the commander cannot pursue the discussion further.

    Nearly half of all soldiers who commit suicide use a firearm, General Chiarelli points out. He added that "suicide in most cases is a spontaneous event" that is often fueled by drugs and alcohol. But "if you can separate the individual from the weapon," he added, "you can lower the incidences of suicide."

    During our interview, David Keene, who said his own daughter is in the Army and currently deployed in Afghanistan, was unapologetically sold on the idea that troops "have to deal with their problems, not with the group of tools that they have... if you have depression and depression creates a suicidal situation if you don't have a gun, you'll use something else. And there are a million ways to commit suicide."

    Keene's statements fly in the face of analysis by public health experts, who say that many suicide attempts are impulsive and that the high lethality of guns makes suicide attempts using them much more likely to succeed. His claims are also inconsistent with my own experiences as a veteran who deployed to a combat zone.

  • A Veteran's Response To Fox News

    Blog ››› ››› LISA REED

    My name is Lisa Reed. I served in the U.S. Air Force from 1999-2003. I enlisted a little over one year after graduating from high school in California and took a position in intelligence. I am now 31 years old.

    When I think of Veterans' Day, a myriad of memories come flooding back. I think of lacing up my first pair of combat boots. I remember the cold, heavy weight of the first gun placed into my small hands. I recall scarfing down an entire pizza when survival school was complete, overjoyed it wasn't another damn MRE. I remember being strapped into a fighter jet for my first flight, praying that the pilot's ability to handle the aircraft matched his sturdy confidence. (We both made it out okay, even more so because I'd managed to hold the contents of my stomach in.)

    And I think of September 2001 -- watching passenger-filled planes fly into NYC and DC buildings while I was deployed in Kuwait, and the sense of helplessness that followed. I recall how the whole world screeched to a stop when I was informed that our wing was sending sorties into Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom, wondering if my life would ever be the same...

    It hasn't been.

    Most importantly, I see the faces of the men and women I served with. I remember everything they taught me, some of which they probably didn't even realize at the time. I look back at how we were, and how we all changed, together and as individuals. For the first time in my life, my well-being was wholly at the mercy of those I worked with, and vice versa.

    So naturally I was caught off guard when I came upon a Veterans' Day story highlighting a divide between military members. The story -- headlined, "Generation Gap Felt at Veterans Day Cook-Out in Chicago" -- reported that the VFW "lost about 200,000 people in just the last year. Younger vets aren't joining groups as commonly as they did generations ago." Attempting to explain this, reporter Ruth Ravve forwards the notion that younger veterans are somehow lacking in "patriotism":