Shooting suspect Gene Vela to receive Veteran Affairs treatment

Lizzie Jespersen

Gene Vela, public affairs graduate student and suspect in an armed standoff Sunday with the Austin Police Department, plans to receive Veteran Affairs treatment following his arrest, according to his lawyer, Adam Reposa.

Vela, a Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq in 2002, was taken into custody the day after being shot in the torso by police. He was shot after alledgedly aiming a handgun equipped with a laser at two policemen through his apartment window in North Campus. Police were originally summoned to his apartment following a 911 call from a friend of Vela’s. 

“I got shot, I shook it off; they could shoot me ten times, and I won’t care,” Vela said in an official statement, according to Reposa.

Reposa said Vela has been strained by post-traumatic stress disorder, and psychological stressors have affected his recent decisions.

“He is an honest, intelligent and hardworking human being,” Reposa said. “Obviously, this is all a terrible misunderstanding. He served our country. I’m sure this will all get worked out.”

In February 2012, Vela was charged with the misdemeanor of unlawful carrying of a weapon while drunk. In the affidavit for his arrest, Vela’s brother, Jason Vela, said Gene Vela acts aggressively while drunk and commented on Gene Vela’s probable PTSD.

According to Reposa, alcohol was not likely a factor in the standoff Sunday.

“I don’t think that anybody thinks that he got drunk and that this is related to him going out and getting drunk,” Reposa said. “It’s quite the opposite, that the same things that lead him to get drunk lead him to this behavior. Drinking is the symptom, not a cause.”

According to Reposa, Vela is in good spirits and will seek trauma treatment for PTSD through Veteran Affairs.

PTSD is a reaction to one or more highly stressful events outside the range of normal human experiences that may manifest itself in several ways and is often accompanied by depression, anxiety and substance abuse, according to Student Veterans Services director Ben Armstrong. An estimated one in every five of all military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have PTSD, according to Heal My PTSD. On campus, there are about 600 veterans within the student body and more than 2,000 people who are either veterans or veteran dependents.

“PTSD is actually a normal process that people go through in response to an extraordinary event or trauma,” said Jane Bost, UT Counseling and Mental Health Center associate director. “These are ordinary things. It is how the body protects the person from the events.”

Vela’s mother, Karen Emerson, said Vela has had more difficulty since his return from the war.

“It’s still very traumatic for me,” Emerson said. “I just wanted to make sure he was okay … He would not ever intentionally hurt anyone.”

Wayne Vincent, Austin Police Association president, said incidents of armed standoffs have been increasing in Austin. As part of standard procedure, police are required to take an administrative leave following use of deadly force.

“It seems like every few months we’re going out where an officer was forced to use some kind of deadly force,” Vincent said. “It’s very unsettling and certainly nothing an officer wants to go through.”

As the University waits for information on Vela’s case, Dean of Students Soncia Reagins-Lilly said UT’s thoughts and prayers are with Vela.

“Our main concern is for the health and well-being of our students,” Reagins-Lilly said. “We are dedicated to helping support our students through difficult times through a wide range of resources within the Division of Student Affairs.”

—Additional reporting by Sarah White