More Fort Hoods waiting to happen, observers warn

The carnage at Fort Hood military base, where a Muslim army doctor is accused of killing 13 people in a shooting spree, was a ticking time-bomb that could explode again, observers said.

“There’s a lot more of this out there, potentially. Anyone coming back from war with PTSD could do the same thing,” said Matthis Chiroux, a former US Army sergeant who refused to go to Iraq.

“We’re talking about nightmares yet unseen here.”

About 20% of the more than 1,6-million US troops who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, and the US military has come under fire for failing to give soldiers and their families adequate treatment for the condition.

Major Nidal Malik Hasan (39) a psychiatrist and specialist in combat stress who was about to deploy to Afghanistan against his wishes, also wounded 30 people in Thursday’s rampage at the sprawling Fort Hood army base in Texas.

The suspect himself was wounded when an officer shot him to halt his attack, and as he lay unconscious in a military hospital speculation swirled as to why Hasan had opened fire on his fellow soldiers.

Others questioned why the military hadn’t noticed that the psychiatrist was himself in need of help.

Hasan reportedly got a “poor” rating while at Walter Reed Army Medical Centre in Washington, and Ann Wright, a retired US Army colonel and former diplomat, told Agence France-Presse “one of his clients said he thought the psychiatrist was in as bad shape as he was”.

“This man was a psychiatrist and was working with other psychiatrists every day and they failed to notice how deeply disturbed someone right in their midst was,” said Selena Coppa, an active-duty soldier who is also an activist for Iraq Veterans Against the War.

Wright, who resigned from the foreign service to protest the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, speculated that Hasan might have cracked after arriving at Fort Hood and seen “these young kids that are going to be deployed versus what he had seen before at Walter Reed, where he saw them as they came back”.

Hasan worked as a psychiatrist at Walter Reed, where he spent most of his career before shipping out this year to Fort Hood. He was due to be deployed to Afghanistan.

“For six years while he was at Walter Reed, he didn’t have to face that and now he had to, and he had to do it at a place like Fort Hood where you see hundreds of people deploying every week. I think the reality of what was now facing him just really came on him,” Wright said.

Hasan’s family has said he repeatedly asked to be discharged and reports have said he did not want to go to Afghanistan to fight fellow Muslims.

“But the military is stretched so thin these days, they’re deploying people who have medical conditions that should make them not deployable or even discharged,” said Bill Galvin, counseling coordinator at the Centre on Conscience and War.

Hasan might have sought a discharge as a conscientious objector, and as an officer it “should have been easier for him to get it”, said Galvin.

But he had a major strike against him on that front: the army had paid for his education.

“When the military has invested a lot in educating and training someone, they are more reluctant to release them,” said Galvin.

Recruiters, according to Wright, are offering men and women as young as 18 up to $20 000 just to sign up, along with the usual benefit of paying their university tuition.

And they tell recruits that they won’t ship out to war, which may only compound the exasperation of a soldier who gets deployment orders.

“Recruiters are saying to kids who have no hope of getting a job because there are no other jobs around, ‘I’ll give you $20 000 and don’t worry about the war,’” said Wright.

In the last three months three soldiers at Fort Hood have refused to deploy to Afghanistan, she added.

But resisting orders requires a strong support network, said Wright, and reports have painted a picture of Hasan as a loner.

Chiroux, who is now a student and anti-war activist, said “the idea of going in and blowing everyone away as the solution to your problems is a story repeated—I hear this all the time.”

“I was talking to this kid, who’d been to Iraq three times, his back was all messed up and he was about to get out of the military when they stop-lossed him,” meaning they extended his service and ordered him to Afghanistan.

“He was in the midst of what I would call a full personality meltdown and he said, ‘I’m going to go out and shoot everybody.’”

The military “has to look at mental health as a very serious thing”, said Coppa.

“Having had poor results at Walter Reed because of stress, Hasan should never have been sent to Fort Hood in the first place,” she said. - AFP



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