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

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More