News / USA

Latest Fort Hood Shooting Raises Questions About Military Mental Care

Fort Hood Shooting Puts Focus Again on Mental Illnessi
X
Greg Flakus
April 04, 2014 9:14 PM
The tragedy at Fort Hood, Texas, this week has drawn attention to the challenge of treating mental illness in the military and the misconceptions about mental afflictions in society as a whole. VOA's Greg Flakus spoke to one of the top U.S. experts on mental illness and filed this report from Houston.
Greg Flakus
Military investigators are looking closely at the medical record of Ivan Lopez, the gunman who killed three people and wounded 16 others before taking his life at Fort Hood, Texas Wednesday. Indications that Lopez had mental problems have raised questions about how much mental health help the U.S. military is providing for service members who need it.

As the investigation into this week's shooting at Fort Hood continues, officials are saying little about the shooter, Army Specialist Ivan Lopez, and have provided little information about what may have been his motive. Other soldiers and family members on the sprawling Army base in central Texas who were acquainted with Lopez described him as friendly and normal in appearance.

Lt. General Mark Milley told reporters Thursday that there is evidence of a history of mental problems that may have contributed to his sudden rampage.

"We have very strong evidence that he had a medical history that indicates an unstable psychiatric or psychological condition," said Milley.

Milley said there is evidence that the shooting spree may have been triggered by an argument he had with someone on the base earlier that day. Critics of the U.S. military's mental health programs say this may have been a case of a patient who was not given all the help he needed.

Authorities say Lopez had been treated for mental problems, but had not been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition sometimes suffered by soldiers who have been in combat. Lopez served in Iraq for four months, but was not in combat. He had been taking a number of prescribed medications, including Ambien, a drug used to induce sleep. It has been associated with numerous side effects, including aggressive behavior.

Mental health experts say such reactions are rare and that assessing risk of violence is a tricky task. John Oldham, chief of staff at the Menninger Clinic in Houston and former president of the American Psychiatric Association, said very few mental patients turn violent.

"It is a very small minority of people with psychiatric or brain disorders where there is this risk of violence," said Oldham.

Oldham said psychiatrists look for a number of risk factors when evaluating patients, but absent some very clear signs, they cannot always determine who might turn violent.

"We know things that are risk factors: when it runs in the family, when there has been in fact a severe depression, when there has been a previous suicide attempt; there are lots of things on that list, but it does not mean that it is easy to tell if the person you are individually talking to is going to be at risk for either violence or self-harm," said Oldham.

Oldham said the bigger problem for the military is that half of the soldiers who need help for conditions like depression, anxiety or mood shifts do not seek help.  Many soldiers say they believe having any kind of mental treatment could hurt their careers.

Oldham said both in the military and in civilian life, people with such problems are stigmatized and that each time there is a violent incident like the Fort Hood shooting, it becomes worse.

"What does not get noticed is the thousands and thousands and many more of people who are perfectly safe and benefiting from treatment.  We need people with problems to walk through the door and get help.  We do not need them to be afraid to," he said.

As the investigation at Fort Hood proceeds and more information comes out concerning Ivan Lopez and his mental problems, there is bound to be more debate over what military officials should be doing to make sure that those in their ranks who need help will have it available and not be afraid to take it.

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Video Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid