Fort Hood: “Circumstances Remain Very Fluid”

Fort Hood shooting incident leads the news

Last evening breaking news carried the horrific story of another mass shooting at Fort Hood, Texas. From about 4:30PM Central Daylight Time (CDT) and on through today the news media has been covering the story of Army Spec. Ivan Lopez and his, as yet not fully understood, assault on fellow US Army personnel, starting with the deaths of three soldiers, the wounding of 16 others and concluding with his suicide.

Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the Army, Fort Hood

English: John McHugh as United States Secretar...
English: John McHugh as United States Secretary of the Army (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It so happens that the Senate Armed Services Committee had planned a hearing for today (April 3, 2014) with Army Secretary John McHugh and Chief of Staff Ray Odierno. The topic for this hearing was to be on the Defense Authorization Request for fiscal 2015; however, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) invited both witnesses to update the committee about the Fort Hood events.

The Washington Post provided a video and complete transcript of the testimony. Army Secretary John McHugh offered the following information, reminding the committee and the world that “the circumstances remain very fluid.”

Based on our discussions last evening with Lieutenant General Mark Nilley and a subsequent conversation I had about 10:45 with the secretary of defense, these are the facts as we understand them. But again, things are changing at this moment. The specialist, the alleged shooter involved joined the United States Army in June of 2008. When he first enlisted in the Army, he was an 11 Bravo; that’s an infantry soldier, as most of you know. He later, upon reupping, transferred his MOS to an 88 mike, a truck driver. We are tracking at the moment that he did have two deployments, including one four-month — approximately four-month deployment to Iraq. As a truck driver, his records show no wounds, no involvement — direct involvement in combat; as General Milley, said no record of Purple Heart or any injury that might lead us to further investigate a battle-related TBI or such. He was undergoing a variety of treatment and diagnoses for mental health conditions ranging from depression to anxiety to some sleep disturbance.

He was prescribed a number of drugs to address those, including Ambien. He was seen just last month by a psychiatrist. He was fully examined. And as of this morning, we had no indication on the record of that examination that there was any sign of likely violence, either to himself or to other, no suicidal ideation. So the plan forward was to just continue to monitor and to treat him as deemed appropriate.

Lieutenant General Nilley did indicate in Wednesday’s late night news conference that Ivan Lopez was being evaluated for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). There will be many questions asked and answered, records will be reviewed, a timeline will be established and somewhere down the road a final report will be issued. Whether or not we will ever really know what triggered Mr. Lopez’s final actions remains to be seen.

A look back at the evolution of military’s approach to PTSD and its treatment

By chance a few days ago, we came across a United States Navy Training Film (previously restricted). The title of the four part series is “Combat Fatigue Irritability.” It was filmed in 1945 and it stars Gene Kelly. According to the Official YouTube Channel of Naval History and Heritage Command, the history program of the Department of the Navy US Navy History:

Hollywood legend Gene Kelly stars in this 1945 Navy training film dramatizing the condition known at the time as “combat fatigue.” The film delves into the symptoms and treatment of what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Kelly had been commissioned a year earlier as a Lieutenant Junior Grade in the United States Navy. Source: Naval History and Heritage Command, Photographic Section, UMO-1. 

If you are having trouble viewing the video series, you can view it here. Each of the four videos is 7-9 minutes in length.

Some final thoughts…

It is important to remember that PTSD is the most current name for what the medical community has documented for more than a century. During our Civil War it was called “hysteria or melancholia,” during WWI it was called “shell shock,” by WWII doctors called it “combat fatigue,” and after the Vietnam War, in 1980, PTSD officially became recognized as a mental health condition when it was included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which was developed by the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

The days ahead will be difficult and painful for all Fort Hood victims. This includes the injured and their families, the deceased and their families, the community of Fort Hood, the US Army and our fellow countrymen.

Tonight we will recite the Serenity Prayer, a special prayer said daily by those in recovery. 

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Peace and comfort to all. 
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