Opinion: No matter what you call it, the "active shooter incident" at Walter Reed failed its patients.

Lauren Warner
November 28, 2018 - 1:56 pm

Image courtesy of WRNMMC

Let's face it. The situation at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center yesterday afternoon was less than ideal for everyone involved. 

Shortly after 2 p.m., NSA Bethesda's Twitter account tweeted that they received reports of an active shooter and those on the installation received 'Code White' notifications. Montgomery County Police responded to the reports of a possible active shooter and arrived on scene around 2:20 p.m. Meanwhile, service members, doctors, caregivers and therapists alike were sheltered in place throughout the hospital. 

On the one hand, everyone can appreciate the swift reaction time and allocation of resources. But on the other, this placed a number of service members and their families in danger with police looking for an active shooter when, according to the most recent reports, there was none. 

As of Tuesday afternoon at 2:31 p.m., the majority of social media had seen tweets like Congressmen Rupperburger's, then the Navy's at 2:58 p.m. acknowledging reports of an active shooter--no drill. Soon, there was chaos online as well as within Walter Reed. 

In the midst of the chaos, one service member found himself face to face with a gun...and a police officer who thought they were responding to an active shooter situation.

Frisking those sheltering in place, yelling at them and removing them from the building as though they were the shooter-- all of these behaviors would be understandable if the situation was legitimate. However, in a "drill" this behavior emphasizes the lack of training and preparedness for a situation where any number of veterans dealing with PTSD could be triggered.

Inciting panic on a military installation hardly seems appropriate without reason. Yet, this is the second time in four months that a "false alarm" has been claimed after active shooter reports on a military base. (See, Wright-Patterson AFB)

The general critique is that the belated drill claims and accidental use of the mass notification system were irresponsible. Building 19, the America Building, is home to Behavioral Health, Physical and Occupational Therapy and a number of specialty clinics that the service members assigned to the Warrior Transition Unit as well as the National Capital Region use daily. The interactions between law enforcement and some of the service members were hardly a positive experience and one that can only be blamed on poor training and lack of communication.

How does this affect someone who's already struggling to get help for trauma?

With no actual evidence of an active shooter, those already suffering from PTSD can incur additional trauma from this kind of incident. There's the risk that now those patients battling PTSD now have a new trigger in the mix or an aversion to the place where they seek care. Can you imagine struggling to enter a treatment facility, not because of what you faced on a deployment, but because of what you experienced in the clinic itself?

True to form and public expectation though, there were service members acting heroically in the face of what many of them understood to be a real danger. 

There's another argument that's also quite popular among the civilian population: the expectation that veterans are the best equipped to handle an active shooter situation.

But does it mean that they should be subjected to this kind of event? Misfires on the range and field are unacceptable, so are those made from a command station.

What do you think?

To share your thoughts or story, contact us at gethelp@connectingvets.com.