By On April 3rd, 2014

Another Ft Hood Attack: When will it be time for true root cause analysis of combat trauma?

tree rootYesterday, I attended Brookhaven Hospital’s seminar, “Hand Up: Alternative Therapies for Veterans,” which examined ways to treat the effects of trauma experienced by our veterans and identified community resources and social supports.  Later that day, I learned that for the third time in five years the Fort Hood, Texas community experienced an assault from an Army soldier.  Early reports of the latest encounter identify Army Specialist Ivan Lopez as the perpetrator of an attack that left 3 dead and another 16 injured, prior to Specialist Lopez dying by suicide. This tragedy is preceded by the 2009 “Ft. Hood Massacre” executed by Major Nidal Malik Hasan which left 12 soldiers and 1 civilian dead, and the thwarted 2011 bombing attempt of Army private, Naser Jason Abdo.

The most noted focus of the two previous events was each person’s ties to the Muslim faith, which caused some military and political leaders to openly speculate the possibility that our military installations based in the United States may be targets of Jihadist Muslims.  Early reports of Specialist Lopez’s motives show no such link. And in review of the two earlier events, only Major Hasan espoused a connection to his Jihadist beliefs.  The reported root of Private Abdo’s anger was a dispute with the military over his Muslim beliefs.  The initial reports of this latest tragedy indicate Specialist Lopez served 4 months in Iraq in 2011, he self-reported experiencing a traumatic brain injury (TBI), and was being evaluated for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Comparison of this latest Ft. Hood heartbreak to the two previous events may provide answers to earlier speculations.   However, those answers raise questions supported by other recent studies of effectiveness of the US military in identifying and treating service connected mental health issues. In regard to the most recent incident, according to early reports, Specialist Lopez served in Iraq three years ago, and just recently started the evaluation process for PTSD and TBI.  He also had no reported ties to Muslim or other religious beliefs in connection to his actions.  Most early reports indicate Mr. Lopez’s actions were motivated by confrontations with fellow soldiers.  When compared to Private Abdo’s reported disputes with members of the military at the same base, two questions come to mind. Was Private Abdo’s self described negative treatment connected to his actions, two years after the Major Hasan attack, and possibly connected to community centered fear based religious beliefs?  Also, why did three of the highest profile plotted attacks on a US military base, target only Ft. Hood?

As reported in a study of the root cause of suicides in 2010, by US Soldiers serving in Iraq, anthropologist Dave Matsuda uncovered a concerning flaw in the military’s process of investigating suicides. His investigation of combat theater suicides revealed a tendency to focus on what was flawed with the soldier. Army investigators would essentially ask the same questions: What was wrong with the individual soldier? Did he or she have a troubled childhood or mental health problems? Did the soldier just break up with a partner or spouse? Was he or she in debt?  The information we have been provided regarding all three of these Ft. Hood atrocities are framed in this same outline.

How many more innocent lives and lives of those who served will have to be lost to homicide and suicide before the process is changed to center on the identifying the root causes of these disastrous outcomes?  When will eliminating the stigma associated with both the career threats and judgment of soldiers seeking treatment become an accepted and integrated norm in our military?




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