Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who fled war in Somalia as a child, is speaking out about the trauma of war for civilians ― and challenging the notion that post-traumatic stress disorder is an issue that only soldiers face, after Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) appeared to dismiss her mention of her own PTSD as “offensive” to military veterans.
“The trauma of war is not only felt by the soldier on the battlefield. It is felt by the child huddled under the bed as bombs go off outside her window,” Omar, whose family lived in a refugee camp in Kenya before moving to the United States at age 12, tweeted Thursday. “I am that child and here in Congress I will always speak out against war.”
“War trauma never leaves you,” the congresswoman added.
Her tweets came as tensions have been escalating between the U.S. and Iran in recent days. After President Donald Trump ordered the killing of Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani last week, Iran retaliated by attacking military bases in Iraq that house U.S. soldiers. (The House passed a largely symbolic vote Thursday to limit Trump’s war powers.)
Omar’s tweets also came a day after Banks appeared to minimize Omar’s mention of her own PTSD.
Omar was among several progressive lawmakers who spoke out Wednesday at a press conference against a potential war with Iran. After saying she felt “ill” amid the tensions taking place, Omar said: “Every time I hear of conversations around war, I find myself being stricken with PTSD. And I find peace knowing that I serve with great advocates for peace and people who have shown courage against war.”
Banks, who served in the military in Afghanistan, later posted a clip of Omar’s speech on Twitter, saying her comments on being “stricken with PTSD” were “a disgrace and offensive to our nation’s veterans who really do have PTSD.”
Omar directly responded to Banks’s tweet Wednesday, saying: “I survived war as a child and deal with post-traumatic stress disorder — much like many who have served or lived through war.” She also called it “shameful” that he would “erase the PTSD of survivors.”
Banks later appeared to respond, confusingly accusing Omar of “chang[ing] the subject.”
Asked to clarify whether Banks believes PTSD is reserved for soldiers, Banks’s team told HuffPost he “didn’t say that” and he ”believes civilians can suffer from PTSD.” His team then lobbed new allegations, claiming that Omar was “giggling” during the press conference and “making light of the threat to our American troops.” They also accused her of “employing PTSD to take a partisan swipe at the president.”
Omar’s team had no comment in response to Banks’s statements.
PTSD is a mental health condition that can stem from any extreme, distressing event, including natural disasters, terrorist attacks, sexual assault and mass shootings.
Several people came to Omar’s defense on Twitter after Banks’s tweet, as well as after a similar one from Fox News host Laura Ingraham, who ridiculed Omar for saying talk of war was making her feel “ill.”
Jason Kander, a former Missouri secretary of state and a veteran ― who has spoken of struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in the military in Afghanistan ― tweeted at Rep. Banks: “It’s not up to us to decide who is and is not ‘worthy’ of PTSD.”
Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), who is part of the so-called “Squad” of progressive congresswomen that includes Omar, responded to Ingraham, saying: “You’d be wise to take a seat and take your cues from folks like Ilhan who actually know what they’re talking about.”
Common Defense, a grassroots group of veterans against Trump, called out Banks, saying: “Veterans like us know that people wearing uniforms aren’t the only ones impacted by war.”