In the wake of the most recent shooting at Fort Hood investigators are left wondering as to what led to this turn of events, while many are quick to associate it with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. PTSD has become a newly realized tragedy affecting many troops returning home from the battlefield, and leaving invisible wounds sometimes deeper than those caused by bombs and bullets.
Spc. Ivan Lopez, 34, originally from Guayanilla, Puerto Rico opened fire on fellow soldiers with a Smith and Wesson .45 semi-automatic handgun at the Fort Hood Army base in Killeen, Texas on Wednesday killing three people and injuring 16 before taking his own life.
The gunman was an Iraq War veteran and the commanding officer at Fort Hood, Lt. Gen. Mark Milley told reporters that psychiatric issues appear “to be the fundamental underlying factor.”
PTSD is a problem that the military is currently playing catch up on. According to VA statistics about 1000 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are diagnosed with PTSD each week.
In fact, it is estimated that 11-20 percent of vets returning from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom suffer from PTSD, opposed to 10 percent from Desert Storm, and 30 percent from the Vietnam War when PTSD was a little known phenomenon.
The disease is developed from suffering a traumatic event, whether physical or emotional, such as the life-altering experiences had on a battlefield. It is treated in various ways including cognitive behavioral therapy which “helps you understand and change how you think about your trauma and its aftermath,” according to the VA on PTSD. Other treatments include group therapy to help patients build relationships with people who understand what they have gone through, and in extreme cases, medication.
Spc. Lopez’s military career began in 2010 when he enlisted in the Army as an infantryman. In 2011, Lopez spent four months in Iraq as a truck driver. Records show that he never experienced significant combat or battle related injuries, but there was a self reported brain trauma upon returning home.
While at Fort Hood Lopez was being evaluated for PTSD, but was not diagnosed at the time of the shooting. He was, however, being treated for depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbance for which he was prescribed Ambien, a powerful sleep aid.
There is still no clear motive, but it is believed that terrorism was not a factor. It is thought that a confrontation with another soldier may have ultimately led to the mass shooting, but is still speculation.
Ingrid Herrera-Yee, a clinical psychologist in Washington D.C. that treats veterans with PTSD said, “there is anger and irritability, but its usually internalized,” adding, “that is not what post-traumatic stress is or what it does.” Herrera-Yee’s husband spent three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, so she knows first hand the affects the war can have.
The shooting at Fort Hood comes nearly five years after the last tragedy that happened on the same military base where in 2009 Army doctor, Nadal Malik Hasan, went on a rampage killing 12 people. In an unnerving coincidence, the two gunmen secured their murder weapons at the same Killeen gun shop, Guns Galore.
Doctors and psychologists fear that the understanding of post-traumatic stress in the eyes of the public will be skewed by events like this and that it will do more harm rather than informing the public of this detrimental disease. It is ultimately unclear if PTSD was to blame for the Fort Hood shooting, or if it was just the crazed actions of a madman.
By Cody Long