The day before **Off Switch** was due to go live, the shootings at Fort Hood happened. The team and I decided to not run it. The subject matter of the strip, despite its length, was too close to the bone. We decided we’d run it further down the line, maybe even with a postscript as to why the strip should still be run, why it mattered. Almost two months passed before we attempted to run it again. This time, just as we were about to put it up, the shootings in Isla Vista, California happened. Again, it felt wrong to run the strip. And so here we are. So today this is going up, albeit not in the form or venue we’d planned. But I felt it was worth putting out there still. Firearm control in America is evidently an issue, the confluence of events just around publishing this strip clearly show that. But there are other factors at play too in the Fort Hood shooting in particular, and that’s what I chose to focus on. What follows below is the original text piece that was supposed to run with the strip in the wake of the Fort Hood shootings.
Off Switch is written by myself with art from Alex Diotto, Letters by ET Dollman and colours by Marissa Louise.
Off Switch was written prior to Ivan Lopez, a 34 year old Iraq veteran, opening fire at Fort Hood military base, killing four people and wounding sixteen others, before taking his own life.
At the time of writing, details on Lopez are still scant. He joined the U.S Army in 2008, and served a four month tour in Iraq three years later. He was married and had four children. Lopez had received treatment for depression and anxiety, and there are indications he was being evaluated for PTSD. None of these excuse the things that Lopez did. But the spectre of possibility raised by his mental health point to a wider issue.
According to the Washington Post almost one and a half million Americans who fought in Afghanistan or Iraq are struggling with physical and mental health problems stemming from their service.
In Defense Department parlance “wounded in action” only extends to “direct result of hostile action.” This wording doesn’t allow for the invisible scars and wounds in the minds of those afflicted. The military has always been a stressful occupation, but the nature of warfare has changed in the post-9/11 landscape, with asymmetric, seemingly never ending conflicts now the norm.
31% of the same veterans polled by the Post reported the wars had caused them mental and emotional problems. One in two stated they knew someone who’d attempted or committed suicide, with a more recent report stating that two dozen veterans are killing themselves every day — almost one an hour. They’re men like Daniel Somers, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He took his life on June 10th 2013, leaving his family a note.
"My body has become nothing but a cage, a source of pain and constant problems. The illness I have has caused me pain that not even the strongest medicines could dull, and there is no cure. All day, every day a screaming agony in every nerve ending in my body. It is nothing short of torture. My mind is a wasteland, filled with visions of incredible horror, unceasing depression, and crippling anxiety, even with all of the medications the doctors dare give. Simple things that everyone else takes for granted are nearly impossible for me. I can not laugh or cry. I can barely leave the house. I derive no pleasure from any activity. Everything simply comes down to passing time until I can sleep again. Now, to sleep forever seems to be the most merciful thing."
In 2012 the number of US active duty suicides outstripped the number of combat-related deaths.
Violence against the self are, as we unfortunately learned, not the only outlets for those suffering under the stresses and fatigue of mental health issues and life in the military. The number of killings committed by current and former service members hit its peak in 2006. Of those crimes, those committed against family members and significant others are the highest.
The majority of those who served, and those who’ve suffered because of it, will not go down the same path that Ivan Lopez did. Thankfully, the US military has gone to great efforts in recent years to destigmatize issues surrounding mental health. But it needs to do more. It needs to ensure that every soldier (no matter their role) has an effective support system in place. It needs to ensure that depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder are treated with as much weight as any physical injury.
As Christopher Stevens, a former Army staff sergeant amongst those polled, said:
“When I raised my right hand and said, ‘I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America,’ when I gave them everything I could, I expect the same in return.”
I delayed running Off Switch because it felt like the right thing to do, the respectful thing to do. But it was never my intention to can it indefinitely. It’d only continue to propagate the veil of silence that surrounds the issue of mental health, mental illness and life in the military. It’s a conversation that needs to continue.