From the April 6th edition of NBC's Meet the Press:
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As journalists covering the Fort Hood mass shooting ponder possible connections between the shooter's mental health and his crime, they have largely ignored a major factor behind the inadequate support and treatment military service members have received for mental health conditions more generally: the vast over-commitment of troops to fight two wars simultaneously for over a decade.
Spec. Ivan Antonia Lopez killed three people and wounded 16 others before taking his own life at Fort Hood, TX, on April 2. Lopez served a four-month term in Iraq, though he reportedly did not see combat. He was being treated for depression and anxiety, and was in the process of being evaluated for post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. PTSD can be triggered by a broad spectrum of emotional and physical traumas, including the loss of a loved one, seeing the after-effects of violence, and experiencing sexual assault, but it is still unclear if Lopez had this condition and the nature of his treatment is largely unknown. An Army psychiatrist who examined Lopez recently reportedly found no "sign of likely violence, either to himself or to others."
Many individuals with PTSD never demonstrate violent behavior, and the likelihood that they will commit mass murder "is extraordinarily small," according to Janice Krupnick, a professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine. (Studies have shown that people with mental health conditions in general are more often the victims of violent crime than the perpetrators.)
Again, Lopez's mental health may prove entirely irrelevant to the mass shooting. But a story that has been largely undercovered in the media is how rising rates of depression, suicide, and PTSD in the military relate to the military's over-commitment in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. In order to supply enough service members to fight two wars simultaneously, the military abandoned previous regulations and put stress on already limited support systems, causing what commanders refer to as "overstretch."
Before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Defense Department standards disqualified recruits who suffered from PTSD and hadn't receive treatment. But Army mental health experts acknowledged early on that those standards were being relaxed in light of the troop shortage. The need for more troops to fight both Iraq and Afghanistan -- and meet the Bush administration's specified troop commitment levels -- required Army mental health experts "to weigh the needs of the Army" ahead of the needs of the individuals. The Associated Press reported in 2006 (emphasis added):
Although Defense Department standards for enlistment disqualify recruits who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, the military also is redeploying service members to Iraq who fit that criteria, the [Hartford Courant reported].
"I'm concerned that people who are symptomatic are being sent back. That has not happened before in our country," said Dr. Arthur S. Blank, Jr., a Yale-trained psychiatrist who helped to get Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder recognized as a diagnosis after the Vietnam War.
The Army's top mental health expert, Col. Elspeth Ritchie, acknowledged that some deployment practices, such as sending service members diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome back into combat, have been driven in part by a troop shortage.
"The challenge for us ... is that the Army has a mission to fight. And, as you know, recruiting has been a challenge," she said. "And so we have to weigh the needs of the Army, the needs of the mission, with the Soldiers' personal needs."
An Army-funded review of the mental health of soldiers who served from 2004 to 2009 found "one in five Army soldiers enter the service with a psychiatric disorder, and nearly half of all soldiers who tried suicide first attempted it before enlisting."
And it's not just new recruits. The Washington Post reported that a diagnosis and lack of treatment for PTSD was also no longer "a barrier to being redeployed" for troops sent to Iraq and Afghanistan, despite the fact that military mental health experts knew for years that redeployment without treatment could drastically increase the risk of damaging mental health conditions. In 2006, a Department of Veteran's Affairs study revealed that within just 30 days of redeployment Army and Marine Corps service members showed higher mental health concerns and higher probable PTSD rates. The risk increases with each additional deployment; one study found that 27 percent of soldiers reported serious combat stress or depression symptoms on their third deployment.
A 2010 PBS Frontline special highlighted how the surge -- in which more than 20,000 additional troops were committed to Iraq in 2007 on top of existing forces -- particularly forced the recruitment and redeployment of troops who would otherwise have been ineligible. The special focused on the Third Platoon, which was sent back to Iraq after only one year at home, and then had their deployment extended to fifteen months. "The military now acknowledges that is not enough time for soldiers to recuperate," PBS reported. "Our ultimate goal is one year deployed, two years home," Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, then-Army vice chief of staff, told PBS. "We have not reached that goal for all units. It's a supply and demand problem. I cannot do anything about the demand. I only have a finite supply. And when the demand goes up, and orders are given, we provide the soldiers."
A decade ago, the Associate Press reported that roughly 1 in 8 returning soldiers suffered from PTSD, according to the Army's first study of the mental health of troops who fought in Iraq. Now estimates place it closer to 2 in 10 -- a 60 percent increase. Suicide rates dipped last year from their alarming highs over the course of the wars. The rate of suicide (which can be sparked by a range of mental health issues) for those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan more than doubled from 2004 to 2009, while the rate for those who never deployed nearly tripled. Last year, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced that 22 veterans kill themselves every day.
There is some hope. President Obama issued an executive order in 2012 ordering Veterans Affairs to expand its suicide prevention and mental health services, and the Army has upped the number of mental-health professionals traveling with troops in the field. Following the previous Fort Hood shooting, in 2009, the Defense Department implemented numerous changes, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel remains committed to implementing those improvements in the system.
But according to Defense Department data, about 2.5 million Americans in the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard, and related Reserve and National Guard units have been deployed in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. 400,000 service members have completed three or more deployments. Nearly 37,000 have been deployed more than five times. An excellent in-depth look at veterans from The Washington Post, published just days before the recent Fort Hood shooting, noted that more than half of the millions who were deployed "struggle with physical or mental health problems stemming from their service."
With those numbers, is it really any wonder that the military has struggled to provide adequate support to Ivan Lopez and others like him?
Image via Flickr user Dave O using a Creative Commons License
MSNBC military analyst and retired colonel Jack Jacobs pushed back against the conservative claim that all soldiers should be armed on U.S. military bases in a contentious head-to-head interview alongside pro-gun researcher John Lott.
Right-wing media have rushed to blame restrictions on the ability of soldiers to carry sidearms on military bases for the April 2 mass shooting at Fort Hood. But military veterans and base commanders, including Fort Hood's own commanding officer, have said that calls to expand access to firearms on bases are flawed.
Jacobs, a recipient of the Medal of Honor, added his voice to those critics during the April 4 edition of Jansing and Co.
"The situation that existed at Fort Hood the other day, in a circumstance in which everybody has weapons, could very easily result and probably would have resulted in an enormous mass fratricide, and you would have this all the time," said Jacobs. "Arming everybody in a civilian situation like at Fort Hood would result in a terrible, terrible tragedy, larger than this one."
Later in the segment, Lott repeatedly tried to interrupt Jacobs, with the MSNBC analyst responding, "Be quiet... please, don't be rude. Please, don't be rude... Be quiet."
Jacobs concluded: "No responsible commander would ever agree to arm all of his soldiers on post, that's all there is to it, and I know, I've commanded lots of troops in and out of combat."
Thanks to National Rifle Association-backed legislation, commanding officers of the gunman responsible for the latest mass shooting at Fort Hood were barred by law from asking him about the privately owned handgun he used to carry out the shooting.
On April 2, Army Spec. Ivan Lopez killed three and wounded 16 others during a rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, before taking his own life. During a press conference that night, Fort Hood's commanding general Lt. Gen. Mark A. Milley said that the shooter, a combat veteran, "was undergoing behavioral health and psychiatric treatment for depression and anxiety and a variety of other psychological and psychiatric issues." Milley also said that the shooter "was currently under diagnosis for [posttraumatic stress disorder], but he had not yet been diagnosed with PTSD" and had reportedly "self-reported a traumatic brain injury" but that "he was not wounded in action [according] to our records."
Milley also said that the shooter "was using a .45 caliber Smith & Wesson semi-automatic pistol that was purchased recently in the local area." He added that the weapon was not registered with Fort Hood, which is a requirement for weapons stored on base, but not for those kept off base (Lopez reportedly lived in an apartment off base). Despite the treatment Lopez was undergoing, his commanding officer would not have been allowed to ask Lopez about this privately owned gun.
In 2011, at the behest of the NRA, the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act of 2011 was amended to prohibit the Department of Defense from collecting or recording any information "relating to the otherwise lawful acquisition, possession, ownership, carrying, or other use of a privately owned firearm." In practice, commanders could no longer ask soldiers about privately-owned firearms kept off base. In celebrating the law's enactment, the NRA's lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action, said that the legislation was "developed by NRA-ILA and pro-Second Amendment members of Congress" and that the law would "protect the privacy and Second Amendment rights of gun-owning military personnel and their families." It is impossible to know whether Lopez's commander was in a position to ask him about privately owned guns, but the circumstances of the shooting do highlight the NRA's nonsensical foray into interfering with the judgment of commanding officers.
Here's what right-wing media are missing in their rush to blame gun regulations and Democrats for the tragic shooting at Ft. Hood on April 2, in which a gunman killed three people and wounded 16 others before taking his own life.
From the April 3 edition of Fox News' America's News HQ:
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From the March 13 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Fox News attacked the Obama administration's decision to formally normalize longstanding U.S. immigration policy that limits deportation and makes it easier for the undocumented family members of current and former service members to attain legal status.
As the Christian Science Monitor noted, "the Department of Homeland Security has long had the authority to halt the deportation of people related to military personnel, and it is this function that the department clarified with specific guidelines to US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in a Nov. 15 memorandum."
In that November 2013 memo, DHS stressed that it was clarifying the directive to "ensure consistent adjudication of parole requests made on behalf of aliens who are present without admission or parole and who are spouses, children and parents of those serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces, in the Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve or who previously served in the U.S. Armed Forces or Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve."
Indeed, according to the Arizona Republic:
In 2010, former Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano began an informal policy granting so called "parole-in-place" to undocumented parents, spouses, and children of active-duty military personnel.
But the informal policy was not being followed consistently in immigration field offices across the country.
As a result, many military personnel who applied for immigration parole for their undocumented parents, spouses and children still were having their cases denied even though they qualified, [immigration attorney Margaret] Stock said.
But in teasing a report about the memo on America's Newsroom, co-host Bill Hemmer asked: "Is that compassion or is that amnesty?" Co-host Martha MacCallum went on to introduce the report by claiming that the Obama administration was "bypassing Congress again to expand immigration reform."
Though Fox News' report, which was narrated by correspondent William La Jeunesse, included the story of a U.S. Marine veteran and his undocumented wife, it also featured Dan Cadman, a fellow from the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies, who claimed the policy was helping a "whole class of aliens with no right to be in the United States."
Fox News ran with misleading figures and false comparisons after Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel outlined a five-year Pentagon budget to stoke fears that the budget will harm the military.
Fox News' Brian Kilmeade invited dubious sources Richard Minter and Scott McEwen on to discuss whether the Obama administration's move toward "weakening the Navy SEALs to be diverse and politically correct" led to three unnecessary deaths and whether the outcome would "have been different if these SEALs were not white?"
Kilmeade introduced guests Richard Miniter and Scott McEwen, authors of Eyes on Target, and bizarrely invoked race to set up a conversation over whether the White House is weakening the Navy SEALs in pursuit of diversity and political correctness:
KILMEADE: It's one of our military's most notorious tragedies. Four Navy SEALs on a top secret Taliban mission and only one survives. But would that be -- would the outcome have been different if these SEALS were not white? An explosive new book claims our politically correct White House is weakening the Navy SEALs to be diverse and politically correct. Scott McEwen and Richard Miniter, authors of Eyes on Target, are here to explain.
McEwen quickly clarified that his book does not suggest the race of the SEALs was a factor in the tragedy in Afghanistan, but he added that he had concerns that the White House is "trying to make them politically correct" by changing the SEAL culture with regard to rules of engagement, codes of conduct, and gender inclusion.
From there, the interview turned to the 2012 attacks on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, devolving into a fact-free recitation of Fox's favorite myths. Miniter claimed that two of the Americans who died in the assault, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, had been denied military aid from U.S. military bases in the Mediterranean and drones in the area and left to die. Miniter went on to attack then-U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice for her early description of CIA intelligence on the attack, claiming that if she has no regrets about her statements, then "she is on very strong medication."
That Miniter gets the facts wrong on Benghazi is no surprise: he has already been discredited as an author. The pair of authors misrepresented the role of Doherty, who was part of the rescue team the pair said didn't exist.
And their claims that further assistance could have been sent from U.S. military bases have been debunked by Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who criticized the conservative media's "cartoonish impression of the military."
And even Fox has admitted that its long-term effort to smear Susan Rice for her& September 16 descriptions of the attack were dishonest, as Rice's talking points represented the best intelligence available at the time.
Fox News' coverage of the September 11 attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, has long been marked by gross inaccuracies and outrageous smears. In the face of overwhelming evidence, a source like Miniter is clearly a last resort. His previous books have relied on dubious sources, misreadings of the evidence, and outright lies.
From the January 29 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Fox News spread fears that new military instructions that grant commanders the discretion to accommodate service members' religious practices and physical appearance will threaten the core military values and cohesion of the troops despite the fact that the Pentagon requires these accommodations be made on an individual basis in consideration to the health and safety needs of each unit.
On January 22, the Department of Defense released new instructions on accommodations for religious expression -- instructions which they believe will reduce discrimination "toward those whose religious expressions are less familiar to the command." The Washington Post reports the new instructions will ensure "rights of religious-minority service members to display their beliefs outwardly -- such as wearing a turban, scarf or beard -- as long as the practices do not interfere with military discipline, order or readiness."
On the January 23 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade turned to Fox's go-to anti-Muslim activist, Dr. Zuhdi Jasser who attacked the rule change as a threat to military readiness. Jasser argued that the rule change might be manipulated by "pseudo-civil rights groups that are really trying to weaken our unit cohesion, weaken mission readiness, and ultimately tee up the football for litigation Jihad or people like -- monsters like -- Nidal Hasan who want to wear a beard." Kilmeade agreed, adding "if your religion conflicts with what the rules are in the military, do something else."
Later in the show, co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck invoked the story of former army officer, Nidal Hasan, convicted of killing 13 people on a military base in Fort Hood, Texas to stoke fears that the new policy might hurt safety and unit cohesion:
HASSELBECK: You can't help but think, I mean, people are harkening back to Nidal Hasan asking to maintain and grow a beard while a trial was going on. I think it definitely brings up concerns, both for safety, unified front, and just cohesion.
But the new instructions came after a long struggle on the part of religious minority groups like Sikh, Jewish, and Muslim Americans who have previously been barred from serving in the military due to the strict dress and personal appearance standards. The new instructions will allow military departments to accommodate individual religious expression, but each individual will still have to be granted permission from his or her unit to assure that physical appearances "do not interfere with good order and discipline."
The Washington Post further clarified that these new accommodations will not be allowed to affect safety or military readiness:
According to the Pentagon, requests for such religious accommodation will still be decided on an individual basis but will generally be denied only if the item impairs the safe use of military equipment; poses a health or safety hazard; interferes with wearing a uniform, a helmet or other military gear; or "impairs the accomplishment of the military mission."
From the January 23 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
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Declassified transcripts from House Armed Services Committee hearings on the September 11, 2012 Benghazi attacks revealed Fox News' highly politicized Benghazi reporting rarely reflected the facts on the ground.
From the November 22 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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