PoliticoShootings expose mental health gaps
By LEIGH MUNSIL | 4/3/14 5:59 PM EDT
Like so many before him, the suspect in the latest Fort Hood shooting “slipped through the cracks” of the military’s mental health system.
And with a slew of new veterans returning from the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s becoming clear that the system will need to be as impermeable as possible in order to prevent future violent outbursts.
“This is an incipient problem,” said Allen Lowe, a senior partner at Ashcraft & Gerel, who represents civilian victims of last September’s shooting at Washington Navy Yard that killed 12. “There’s going to be over the next two years a wave of these guys coming back … but they’re going to come back with the same kinds of emotional experiences that those before them had.
“And when you just run the numbers exponentially, you can anticipate there will be more problems.”
Spc. Ivan Lopez, identified by the Army as the shooter in the rampage that killed four and wounded 16, was an Army truck driver who served in Iraq. He was being treated for depression and anxiety, according to the base commander, Lt. Gen. Mark Milley, and was in the early stages of determining whether he had post-traumatic stress disorder.
The 2013 National Defense Authorization Act gave military mental health caregivers concerned about violence the authority to ask people in their care about their personal weapons. But only caregivers can ask those questions, not officers in the normal course of business, Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren added.
Lopez had spoken with a psychiatrist as recently as last month, Army Secretary John McHugh said at a congressional hearing on Capitol Hill. The 34-year-old soldier, originally from Puerto Rico, was deployed twice, but he wasn’t ever directly involved in combat or wounded, McHugh added.
There’s no indication yet whether Lopez’s mental health caregivers felt like he was dangerous or warned anyone ahead of Wednesday’s shooting in Texas, Warren said.
“Our regulations require that mental health professionals have a duty to warn and a duty to protect others,” he told reporters at the Pentagon Thursday.
ust because Lopez wasn’t on the front lines in Iraq doesn’t mean he didn’t have PTSD, said Joseph Calabrese, director of the mood disorder program and co-director of the bipolar research center at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Ohio.
“We can surmise that he might have experienced trauma prior to deployment — either childhood or civilian trauma,” Calabrese said.
PTSD plus depression can be a deadly combination, he added: “The addition of PTSD to depression converts somebody who is just thinking about suicide to somebody who is planning a suicide.”
Calabrese recommends that mental health professionals not limit their assessments to PTSD, since many people with PTSD also have another mental illness — often alcohol dependence, depression or anxiety.
“The last thing a soldier wants to be told is they not only have a mental illness but they have three of them,” he said. “There’s a need to increase the mental health infrastructure so that these soldiers not only get access to a mental health professional but that the mental health professional has time to do an assessment that includes all of these illnesses.”
Right now, the Pentagon is focused on finding the root causes of the outburst, comforting the victims’ families and making sure bases like Fort Hood — also the site of the 2009 shooting that left 13 dead and 31 wounded — are safe places to work, Warren said.
* * *Read more ...