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

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better life More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs