- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 6, 2014

As more details come to light surrounding Spc. Ivan Lopez’s state of mind before he fired on fellow service members at Fort Hood last week, the clearer it becomes, lawmakers and military leaders say, that the mental health of returning veterans no longer can be relegated to the back burner.

The shooting spree, in which the gunman killed three people and injured 16 others before taking his own life, once again has thrust the mental health issue into the spotlight and brought into focus the sheer inadequacy of both the overall understanding of troubled, disturbed individuals and the professional services to reach them before tragedy strikes.

Before he unleashed horror at Ford Hood, Lopez, a 34-year-old Iraq War veteran, took to Facebook to express frustrations, fears and other emotions on a variety of subjects. CNN and other media outlets reported over the weekend that the Army truck driver wrote cryptic, alarming messages under the screen name “Ivan Slipknot,” an apparent reference to the dark heavy metal band.

“My spiritual peace has just gone. Full of Hate. Now I think I’ll be damned,” he wrote.

Lopez also reportedly was being treated for depression and other issues.

Those clear warning signs and, more important, that no one intervened after seeing them, have left lawmakers and others once again grasping for answers.

SEE ALSO: Obama, first lady to attend Fort Hood memorial service

“We have this crazy standard in the United States that says unless a person is on the verge of holding a knife to their own throat or someone else, we’re not going to step in. And that’s a real problematic standard,” Rep. Tim Murphy, Pennsylvania Republican and a clinical psychologist, said Sunday during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Although attention is turning to mental health, the families of the victims at Ford Hood continue to grieve. Lopez’s rampage was the second mass shooting in five years on the sprawling Texas military base.

In 2009, Maj. Nidal Hasan killed 13 and wounded 30 others at Ford Hood.

Just as in 2009, the White House announced Sunday that President Obama will travel to the base Wednesday and attend memorial services for the victims.

“The president and first lady send their thoughts and their prayers out to the victims and families and everyone on the base,” White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

In Killeen, Texas, home to Fort Hood, dozens of community members gathered Sunday to honor the victims. Pastor Robert Sperbeck tried to comfort the congregation at Tabernacle Baptist Church in Killeen and said most everyone is asking why a shooting like this would happen again.

According to The Associated Press, Mr. Sperbeck told mourners that “the devil is the author of what happened,” but “the way of God leads to the way of comfort.” He said God gives individuals choice and the gunman chose to follow darkness.

For officials, the search to understand Lopez’s motive only intensified.

Lopez reportedly got into a verbal altercation with fellow service members just before he began shooting, leading to speculation that he was harboring deep trauma that was ignited into violence by a specific event.

Military officials have said there is no evidence that Lopez was wounded in battle while in Iraq or suffered any other traumatic event, but specialists say it’s not uncommon for civilians or military personnel who didn’t see combat to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Known as nondeployment PTSD, the illness is becoming much more common, said Royce Lee, a psychiatrist and associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at the University of Chicago.

Mr. Lee said nondeployment PTSD is common in first responders who have been exposed to victims repeatedly, like those who responded to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

As a truck driver in Iraq, Lopez could have been exposed over and over again to traumatic events of victims, Mr. Lee said.

“It is plausible if that were the kind of duties he had,” he said.

Military leaders say there simply aren’t enough mental health professionals in either the military or the nation as a whole to deal with the scope of the problem. As more veterans return from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, mental illness may become more common and more serious.

“I think our force, because it has been away so much, has not had to deal with those [mental health and other issues] as directly as they may have in the past, and now that we’re going to be home more, I think we’re going to actually see an increased number of challenges associated with that,” Adm. Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during an interview Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “We all need to wrap our arms around the force to help us deal with those.”

Adm. Mullen said the availability and quality of services must be increased, along with the understanding of the human mind.

“This really is a national resources issue. … I think we need to do a lot more to understand the brain and how these [traumatic] injuries affect our young people who have done so much for our country,” he said.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.



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