Over the weekend, the usually idyllic vacation spot of Mount Rainier National Park was engulfed in a nightmarish killing and manhunt.
Police suspect Benjamin Colton Barnes of opening fire at a New Year’s party near Seattle, wounding four people, then running to Mount Rainier National Park and killing a park ranger. Barnes was later found dead in the park, likely from exposure to the cold.
What makes the story all the more jarring is Barnes’s background: The 24-year-old was an Iraq war veteran, possibly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The deaths come as the Department of Veterans Affairs is stepping up its outreach programs to veterans who are battling with rising suicide rates, homelessness rates and aggressive behavior.
The VA reports that about 11 percent to 20 percent of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars suffer from PTSD. Veterans are also disproportionately homeless — about twice as likely to end up on the streets as non-veterans. They also account for one of every five suicides in the nation.
Barnes’s story touched one veteran’s nerve center. “One of the hardest missions we face is transitioning from the frontlines in war to the home front,” Benjamin Tupper, a disabled veteran with PTSD, wrote in the Daily Beast on Tuesday morning. “All are engulfed in the fever of PTSD, employing these dysfunctional and tragic coping mechanisms with the goal of making the bad war memories go away. And there but for the grace of the veterans center go I.”
The VA has been making inroads with its care for veterans, reducing the number of the homeless by 12 percent this year, and pushing for more outreach. A series of new television commercials urges soldiers returning home to seek help.
For one veteran, though, the improvements did not come soon enough. Tupper said almost five years of counseling at Veteran Affairs has been his saving grace, but Barnes did not have that chance. His death and the death of park ranger Anderson, Tupper writes, is a failing on society’s part.