It was one week ago today when a man pulled a semi-automatic weapon from his luggage and killed five people and injured six others at the Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood Airport.
The suspect, Esteban Santiago, 26, is an Army veteran who served in Iraq. And that has an impact that reaches far beyond the airport.
Retired Army Col. D.J. Reyes tells WUSF reporter Bobbie O’Brien for our series "Off the Base" that such incidents feed the misconceptions that most veterans have mental health problems or may be dangerous.
“When I work with employers, one of the first things they ask me is ‘Does this veteran have PTSD? Does this employee have mental health issues?” said Reyes, who is the veterans employment coordinator for the 11-county Tampa Bay area.
Reyes said he takes time to educate potential employers that only a minority of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have mental health or substance abuse problems. He said only about 1 out of 5 post 9-11 veterans are diagnosed with a mental illness, which includes post-traumatic stress or traumatic brain injury. And 1 out of 6 veterans have an alcohol or substance abuse problem.
“I worry sometimes we paint a grim picture when we really should be more optimistic and especially looking at many of the initiatives that we do have in our community such as the veterans treatment court,” Reyes said.
He serves as the mentor coordinator for the Hillsborough Veterans Treatment Court. It diverts veterans in trouble with the law linking them to VA benefits, treatment and services, as well as housing and employment.
“From my perspective as the veteran employment coordinator,” Reyes said. “I attend and participate in all of the veteran job fairs, I speak to all of the employers. They all unanimously tell me ‘We’re veteran friendly, we support veterans.’”
But he said that he’s found that most veterans who attend job fairs come away with no job offers. Reyes said employers and the public need to be educated on what veterans can contribute to the workplace and dispel the misconceptions.