Wounded Warriors

Posted Nov. 06, 2009, at 6:20 p.m.

Hours after the shooting Thursday at the Fort Hood Army base in Texas, pundits and partisans were spinning the tragedy as evidence of one of two foreign policy blunders. Although there may be evidence to support their two explanations for Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan’s alleged actions, a simpler take may be that he was increasingly troubled and simply snapped.

As a devout Muslim and first-generation American of Palestinian descent, Maj. Hasan’s actions could be seen as a reaction to the U.S. military invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Those asserting that view believe it bolsters the argument that the U.S. is locked in a global struggle with a radical, militant version of Islam.

But the shooting also will be used to support the view that the true cost of the two wars had been ill-considered by the administration that launched them. As a psychiatrist who specialized in post-traumatic stress and other emotional problems soldiers experience, Maj. Hasan’s actions can be seen as a cry to stop the emotional price of war.

A less politically charged way to understand the tragedy is that Maj. Hasan suffered a mental breakdown of catastrophic proportions. As a medical doctor, Maj. Hasan was trained to heal, not hurt, so something must have gone terribly wrong in his thinking for him to become violent toward those in his charge.

The fact that Maj. Hasan is a Muslim may have played a part in his breakdown. After the shooting, his cousin told The New York Times that other soldiers harassed him about his religion. He may have felt he was betraying his national and religious heritage by participating in the military effort against two largely Muslim nations. Yet, according to the Times, he enlisted in the Army over the objections of his parents, saying he was born and raised an American and wanted to serve his country.

Above all, Maj. Hasan probably was afraid of what his impending deployment to Afghanistan would mean.

“He was mortified by the idea of having to deploy,” Maj. Hasan’s cousin told the Times. “He had people telling him on a daily basis the horrors they saw over there.”

The Fort Hood tragedy highlights an ongoing failure by the Department of Defense to provide mental health care for soldiers. A little over a year ago, a soldier at Fort Hood shot and killed his commanding officer and then shot himself. That tragedy prompted Carissa Picard, wife of a soldier who is stationed there, to write about the Army’s neglect of mental health issues. She asked Military Family Network to reprint her piece on Friday.

She cited then-Veterans Affairs Secretary James Peake’s testimony to Congress that male veterans of the Iraq operation in the 18 to 35 age range are twice as likely to commit suicide as their civilian counterparts and female veterans are three times as likely to commit suicide.

“Suicides are not the problem,” Ms. Picard wrote last year. “They are a symptom of the problem: the Army does not put nearly as much emphasis on the mental health and well-being of its soldiers as it does on their physical health and well-being.”

The Fort Hood shooting is further evidence of the urgent need to fix that failure.

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