My Turn: More sensitivity needed to veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

The Empire’s coverage of the 2010 shootings has been a painful story for those who lost loved ones, the community of Hoonah, as well as the large Alaskan Native veteran population in Hoonah.

The Veterans in the Hoonah community have suffered deeply from this incident as well; their self-esteem and reputation has been damaged. Most of them have worked very hard to be functional and friendly members of the community. Unfortunately the defense tried weakly to identify an alternate shooter and, sadly, the Empire published by name and labeled the individual a loner, secluded, and angry. It is probable that the decision to weakly implicate, Tom Mills, Sr., as a possible perpetrator in the case was an exhausted attempt by the defense to cast reasonable doubt. Tom lives next door to the fatal incident, even though, clearly through employment receipts, and the use of his house by the law enforcement during the incident, he was not in town. Was it necessary to characterize him as an ‘angry, loner, Vietnam Veteran’ and to publish his name?

Futile attempts by the defense aside, for Tom, who has struggled with PTSD for decades, he has been given a swift but sure kick in a fragile state.

We are writing this letter to the editor and the community of Juneau and Hoonah because we need the small communities that we live in to also hear another side of Tom. We are hoping to help the stigma of families and individuals suffering from this disability. PTSD is a life-altering disability that is caused by severe trauma caused by warfare, abuse, experiences and even abandonment. Not just veterans are affected by this disability. Stereotyping a disability causes an unthinkable amount of emotional and self-esteem damage to the individuals who have to live day by day with it. Many of them are trying to make themselves more then a label, they want to be more then a stereotype, and are more then a disability, they are a human who thinks and feels. We are asking community members to disallow this stereotype from your interactions with people who suffer from PTSD and from Tom.

We are also asking you to remember that these veterans are just as hurt as anyone else in the community by the actions that took place in 2010. Please remember, these veterans who are now disabled, proudly gave up their lives as civilians to serve our country and are still facing consequences and trying to heal and better themselves. We may not support these wars, but we need to support these people.

Tom Mills was born in to a proud Tlingit family who had been dealing with intense racial discrimination and forced assimilation for years. Those that are Alaskan Native, who grew up in households clinging to traditional ways will understand this for the profound generations of inner and outer turmoil that is a reality for these families. When he was young, while living with his grandparents in Excursion Inlet, his family was ordered by the territorial police to move him to Hoonah to go to school. He attended Mt. Edgecumbe high school, a residential high school in Sitka, away from his family, and then attended Haskell College. He was drafted into the military at the onset of the Vietnam War, which compelled him to enlist in Navy for six years. Similarly, four of his brothers also served in the Vietnam War. He became a decorated UDT Navy Seal completing two tours in Vietnam. After six years in the Navy, 14 hours later he was back in Hoonah. For many years he was the walking boss for Southeast Stevedoring, loading log ships and watching out for the well being of his crew. He has successfully raised two children to understand their culture and land from hands-on subsistence in Excursion Inlet. He has been alcohol free for over 20 years. He struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder. His son Thomas just graduated from St. Johns College in Annapolis Maryland and is now in St. Petersburg, Russia, teaching English. His daughter Lydia is a Junior at Grinnell College, studying Biology and Anthropology. Both children have spent summers with their father since they were very young enduring taunts from others about their father’s condition and the color of their skin while being a family, inconceivable in this day and age, but true.

We would like to thank Tom’s friends and family in Hoonah, and Juneau, students at Grinnell College, and others who have reached out to Tom as he continues his life on the land that he loves.

• Lydia Mills is attending school in Iowa, Thomas Mills Jr., is in St. Petersburg Russia, Jane Lindsey, lives in Juneau, Alaska.

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