The Cable

Vets Are Furious Sarah Palin Blamed Her Son’s Domestic Violence On PTSD

Track Palin allegedly beat his girlfriend and threatened to kill himself.


On the night of Jan. 18, Sarah Palin’s 26-year-old son, Track, returned to his home in Wasilla, Alaska. Drunk, he allegedly beat his girlfriend, held an AR-15 to his head and threatened to kill himself, according to a police report on the incident. Two days later, his mother, stumping on behalf of GOP frontrunner Donald Trump, made political fodder out of her son’s actions.

Track was deployed to Iraq when his mother was announced as John McCain’s running mate in 2008, and Sarah Palin on Wednesday noted “these ramifications of some PTSD, and some of the woundedness that our soldiers do return with.”

“I can talk personally about this, I guess it’s kind of the elephant in the room,” Palin said at an Oklahoma rally, where she was campaigning for Trump. “My son, like so many others — they come back a bit different, they come back hardened, they come back wondering if there is that respect for what it is that their fellow soldiers and airmen and every other member of the military so sacrificially have given to this country.”

The blame, Palin said, lies at the feet of President Barack Obama. “It’s a shame that our military personnel even have to wonder, if they have to question, if they’re respected anymore,” the former Alaska governor said. The question, though — that comes from our own president, where they have to look at him and wonder, do you know what we go through?”  

While Palin did not explicitly say that her son had post traumatic stress disorder and that the condition had caused his violent outburst, she certainly implied it and used it to shield her son from responsibility. At no point did Palin mention the real victim of Monday’s violence — the girlfriend, who, according to the police report, was punched above the eye and kicked. Instead, Palin sought to score political points by saying Obama has not done enough to care for American veterans.

In the last 24 hours, her ploy sparked a firestorm of criticism among American veterans who took to social media to accuse Palin of distorting the reality of PTSD. Between 4 to 17 percent of U.S. Iraq War veterans are thought to be affected by PTSD, but advocates say Palin malignantly reinforced a stereotype they have been fighting for years: that of the unpredictable, violent veteran.

The “damaged vet” trope has a tendency to rob veterans of their identity, said David Chasteen, a co-founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. The stigma associated with PTSD can make it more difficult to find employment and seek necessary treatment, said Chasteen, who nonetheless gave Palin’s comments the benefit of doubt: “It’s easy to see Palin as a caricature, but she is also a military mom,” Chasteen said. “She’s clearly hurting. It’s hard for her to go through this.”

Others were less generous. “Here we have Sarah Palin yakking about PTSD, and she’s talking about it in a context that is extraordinarily harmful,” said Brandon Friedman, head of the public affairs firm The McPherson Square Group, a veteran of the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and author of the memoir The War I Always Wanted. “She’s basically saying, ‘Of course my son beats his girlfriend, because he has PTSD like all the veterans.’”

Veterans have expressed dismay over Palin’s association between violence and PTSD, and called on Track Palin to take responsibility for his condition — if he indeed has been diagnosed — and seek treatment. Writing on Twitter, former Army infantry officer Nate Bethea described his own experience with PTSD:

Experts note that while acts of violence, including domestic violence, are slightly higher among the veteran population, it is far more likely to be self-inflicted than directed at others. The U.S. military, strained by repeated deployments in the last 15 years to Iraq and Afghanistan, has experienced an epidemic of suicides, thought to be connected in part to the prevalence of PTSD.

“I think the reason people are pissed is because PTSD is treatable. Veterans know what’s available, and they have a responsibility to identify those symptoms and get treated,” Friedman said. “And if a veteran doesn’t do that, that’s on them.”

Writing on Twitter, a U.S. veteran writing under the handle @CavRTK described his own road to recovery:

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @EliasGroll

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