Over the past few years, therapist Mark Mitchell has organized some 10 workshops to address the plight of hurting military veterans in recent years at Loyola Marymount University, with topics ranging from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to moral injury. Most have been clinically oriented.
But on November 17, he and other speakers drew on psychological, anthropological, and biological research on how humans find tribes or community in a session titled “Veterans: Finding Tribe.”
And “Finding Tribe” would be his hardest.
The workshop’s goal was to offer disconnected and alienated veterans help in bridging the cultural gap between military and civilian cultures. Speakers included combat vets, mental health workers, social workers, and chaplains.
People like Jim Zenner, a licensed clinical social worker, Army combat veteran and director of the Department of Mental Health Emergency Outreach and Triage division; Lt. Paul Cobb, a retired Marine and chaplain for the California National Guard; and Krishna Flores, a Marine combat veteran who works with the homeless out of the Antelope Valley Veteran Center.
Missing was Daniel Manrique.
The 33-year-old was a field radio operator, who served in the Marines from 2003 to 2007. He rose to the rank of sergeant, earning multiple awards, and spent most of 2007 deployed in Iraq. In 2012, he joined the Ventura County chapter of Team Red, White and Blue, where he became chapter president, and for five years organized events for other veterans.
Recently, he took on the job of regional program manager at Team RWB. And from 2017 until last month, he also worked as a program manager of veteran programs at the St. Joseph Center in Venice.
But Sgt. Manrique never made it to the “Finding Tribe” workshop, where he was scheduled to speak.
Nine days before, he was mortally wounded at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks by a spray of bullets from a Glock .45-caliber handgun with an illegal extended magazine. The man dressed in black firing it was 28-year-old fellow ex-Marine Ian David Long.
“It’s kind of the worst betrayal there can be,” said Mitchell, who co-chairs the behavioral health team of the Los Angeles Veterans Collaborative.
“You’re taught to trust your brother or sister that you’re fighting alongside. I think that’s one of the hardest things for me, even as a civilian. And the Marines, in particular, are bonded so tightly. That’s the tragedy on top of it all. It’s, you know, one of your own.”
The therapist had an hour FaceTime talk with Manrique the day before he was killed. They spoke about the positive things Team RWB was doing locally to foster community and bonding among veterans.
“When I met Dan a year or so before, I could tell he was really grounded as a leader and emotionally intelligent and very present,” Mitchell told Angelus News in an interview.
“That’s the thing that struck me about him. Very soft-spoken, but very present and listening, which is unusual for most people. I really wanted him to speak because there’s more of a connection from vet to vet, you know, peer to peer.
“But with Team RWB’s events are usually activity based and include civilians, too. So it’s a nice transition where vets can meet civilians and civilians can meet vets, and have more of a relationship. If anybody is trying to do ‘tribe,’ it’s them.”
It’s been speculated by no less than the commander-in-chief of the armed forces that the borderline gunman suffered from PTSD. With no clinical evidence, President Trump called Ian David Long a “very sick guy.”
He added that the former Marine machine-gunner “saw some pretty bad things. And a lot of people say he had the PTSD. And that’s a tough deal. … They come back, and they’re never the same.”
The president’s remarks immediately drew the ire of veteran groups and their advocates. They declared he was reinforcing a blatantly untrue stereotype — debunked by solid research — that all veterans who serve in recent combat come home with serious mental health problems. Behavioral scientists, meanwhile, stressed it was way too early to draw such a divisive conclusion.
Paul Rieckhoff, president of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, called the comments “extremely unhelpful.”
“Most people who suffer from PTSD, when able to access effective treatment, are able to live healthy, happy, meaningful lives,” said Rieckhoff in a November 9 statement.
When vets with mental health problems hurt somebody, it’s usually themselves. “We lose 20 veterans and service members to suicide every single day,” he pointed out.
Elspeth Ritchie, a retired Army colonel and psychiatrist, told the Washington Post in a November 9 article that about 25 percent of combat soldiers who served during the height of the Iraq War returned home with some symptoms of PTSD. But these veterans didn’t necessarily have the full-blown condition.
“Like often with mental illness, there is a little bit of increased risk of violence, but it’s not the kind of violence where you go into a bar and shoot people,” she said. The psychiatrist explained that mass shooters are very often experiencing delusions and paranoia, symptoms even more severe than those of PTSD resulting from combat.
“When you’re talking about going in and shooting someplace up … nearly all of the time it’s something worse than PTSD,” said Ritchie. “It’s usually a psychotic episode. Psychosis means being out of touch with society.”
Which begs a rather big question.
If the mental health issues mass shooters are dealing with rise above the more run-of-the-mill PTSD issues, why wasn’t Ian David Long placed on a 72-hour involuntary psychiatric evaluation hold when Ventura County Sheriff deputies responded in April to a disturbance at the home he shared with his mother?
Deputies noted that he was somewhat irate and acting irrationally. But a mental health specialist who also met with Long decided not to detain him under existing laws.
“I don’t know what the deputies and mental health person had as data to judge if he was a threat to himself or others,” said Mitchell.
Mitchell believes that the mental health worker assigned to the future shooter may have felt confident enough that Long wasn’t a threat, and that Long could have “tap danced” in front of the worker to create a false impression, something Mitchell says is all too common.
But the therapist who has worked with veterans for almost a dozen years wonders whether Long, like so many young veterans, struggled with readjusting to civilian life once home from war.
“This guy was 28. So he went into the Marine Corps at 18, 19 to find his identity. He finds his identity as a gunner and as a combat instructor,” Mitchell explained.
“Coming out and being in Thousand Oaks really is a rough transition in his identity. So I would say the identity issue is a big one. I would say the stigma of seeking help is big: I’m 28. I’m strong. I don’t need nothing! And he was a loner. There was no tribe or group of people that could influence him enough, obviously.”
After a moment, Mitchell added, “and then you have the gun thing, which is he probably had access to weapons. So when you have easy access to weapons, it’s easy to think of the gun when you don’t know how to self-soothe yourself.”
A missed opportunity?
Spurred by the 1978 death of her older brother Peter in gun violence, Suzanne Verge has been going up against the “gun thing” for 18 years now. As president of the Los Angeles chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, she has advocated for more state and federal gun and ammunition laws than she can remember.
Verge, who is a parishioner at St. Monica Church in Santa Monica, said she was not surprised by the latest deadly mass shooting, not with the continued easy availability of guns in the U.S.
But there was something that really bothered her about this particular shooting.
According to Verge, authorities in Ventura County were seemingly unaware of California’s gun violence restraining orders that prohibit someone from possessing a gun or ammunition.
And police — as well as close family members — can get a “Firearms Emergency Protective Order” in California if someone poses an “immediate and present danger of causing personal injury to himself/herself, or to another person.”
“I really think law enforcement is just not aware that they have the ability to do it,” said Verge, who participated in one of the prayer vigils held in Thousand Oaks the night after the shooting.
“We’ve got this great tool, but nobody knows about it. They have no idea they have this tool they could be using. And it went into effect Jan. 1, 2016. But in 2016, there was only one case filed in Ventura County. Last year only three,” she told Angelus News.
“Who knows if it would have stopped the Thousand Oaks shooter?”
R.W. Dellinger, features editor for Angelus, is one of the deans of Catholic journalism in the United States. In a career that has spanned nearly three decades, Bob has told the story of the Church’s work for justice and peace through expert analysis, and narrative and investigative reporting from the “peripheries” of Los Angeles, among the poor, the homeless, the prisoner, and the disabled and marginalized. In 2018, the Catholic Press Association named him “Writer of the Year,” and said this about Bob’s work: “Amazing topics explored fully through, interviewing, observation and research. Beautifully done. … Dellinger shows us the place and faces where our faith is and where it should take us. A great body of work.”
SPECIAL OFFER! 44 issues of Angelus for just $9.95! Get the finest in Catholic journalism with first-rate analysis of the events and trends shaping the Church and the world, plus the practical advice from the world’s best spiritual writers on prayer and Catholic living, along with great features about Catholic life in Los Angeles. Subscribe now!