News / USA

Latest Fort Hood Shooting Raises Questions About Military Mental Care

Fort Hood Shooting Puts Focus Again on Mental Illnessi
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

Video Russia’s Syrian Escalation Tests Obama’s Crisis Response

Critics once again question whether president has been slow to act on Syrian conflict, thus creating opening for powers like Russia More

Ancient African DNA Shows Mass Migration Back Into Africa

First genetic analysis of ancient human remains in Africa suggests massive migration from north around time of Egyptian empire More

NASA: Pluto Has Blue Sky

New photos also reveal the presence of water ice More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugeesi
Henry Ridgwell
October 08, 2015 8:02 PM
Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs