It is too early to know what drove an attacker in uniform who ended and shattered lives at Fort Hood, Texas, for the second time in five years. On Thursday, a soldier identified as Spc. Ivan Lopez wounded 16 people on the post and killed three before placing his gun to his head and ending his own life. In 2009, Army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan killed 13 and wounded 30 at the same Army post.
Speculation is cheap. Lives are not. And the issues potentially involved in this latest, violent mass killing are too important to too many people to engage in that before more is confirmed about the suspect.
However, a public that is at least troubled by the latest Fort Hood tragedy should pay attention to three studies released last month that indicate mental illness issues in the military could be more challenging than previously thought.
The grim statistic of 22 veteran suicides a day has been with us for a while. So have news stories about the armed forces’ attempts to identify and address the myriad contributors to this self-inflicted killing field, and to save the lives and careers of those in anguish.
But the recent findings published in JAMA Psychiatry suggest the military needs to be more discerning on the front end of a soldier’s career. The fact that the services depend on recruits to disclose their histories — and that suicidal behavior can be a deal-breaker for enlisting —makes that more difficult.
As reported in numerous news outlets, the studies showed about 1 in 5 U.S. soldiers have pre-enlistment mental disorders — a higher rate than their similar, civilian counterparts — and more than half of soldier suicide attempts can be traced to those.
As the Los Angeles Times reported, intermittent explosive disorder, which is what it sounds like, was the most common in the study at a rate six times that of the civilian rate. And as Harvard University found, this disorder is predictive of suicide attempts following suicidal thoughts.
These are complicated issues that demand serious and sustained attention by the military hierarchy, by Congress and by the American people.
The armed forces have worked to create a culture that is more accepting of active-duty soldiers who are open about needing help with mental illness.
These latest studies indicate similar openness, and paths to treatment, should be happening at the earliest possible occasions.
— The Courier-Journal, Louisville