Patrick Harten, the air traffic controller who was in contact with United Flight 1549 in the moments before it ditched in the Hudson River on January 15, testified before a Congressional committee today about his experience. He hasn’t been able to work in a month. One reason is that the experience was extremely traumatic:
“Even when I learned the truth, I could not escape the image of tragedy in my mind,” he said. “Every time I saw the survivors on television, I imagined grieving widows. It’s taken me over a month for me to be able see that I did a good job.”
This, mind you, even though not a single person was killed during the experience. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not trying to downplay the emotional impact that the experience had on Mr. Harten. Instead, what immediately came to my mind were thoughts of the incredible emotional trauma that our returning veterans faced during their tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Both The Washington Post and The New York Times have run articles documenting the inadequate psychological care that veterans receive once they return from active duty. Mr. Harten’s example should demonstrate how fragile the human psyche can be even when you’re talking about a trained professional doing his job. Mr. Harten, after all, helped save lives. Military veterans, on the other hand, are often haunted by visions of lives shattered, not lives spared.
I don’t know what the answer is, because war inevitably scars those involved. But it can’t hurt if we as a culture better understand psychological trauma and become more supportive of those who experience it.