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Mental Health in the Military
April 6th, 2014
07:36 AM ET

Mental Health in the Military

By Michelle Koepp

(CNN) Ivan Lopez juggled life as an Army Specialist, husband and father.  His neighbor at Ft. Hood says that whenever Lopez saw someone he would smile.

On Wednesday Lopez shot and killed three people and wounded sixteen others. About twenty minutes into the rampage, he walked towards a military policewoman and shot himself.

All of those killed and injured were U.S. servicemen, shot on the same base still synonymous with a massacre that visited Fort Hood just five years ago.

Staff Sergeant Patrick Zeigler, who is still recovering from multiple bullet wounds to his head and body from the 2009 massacre, told CNN in an interview when he heard the news “I just tore up my heartstrings.”

Investigators suggest the shooting was triggered by an altercation; however details about the shooting are still emerging.

Lopez served for four months in Iraq in 2011, and although no records indicate his having seen combat, Lopez self-reported a traumatic brain injury during deployment.

He was undergoing treatment for mental problems, depression, anxiety and other psychiatric disorders.

The nonprofit think-tank RAND Corporation estimates that one in three veterans suffers from a traumatic brain injury, depression, or PTSD.

In this particular case, experts caution against blaming PTSD.  They argue it will further stigmatize the condition, discouraging some vets from accepting they have it and seeking treatment. Others argue when treatment is sought, it is the actual name of the diagnosis itself that is the issue:

The Fort Hood shooting comes as former President George W. Bush emerges  as the most high-profile proponent to de-stigmatize PTSD.  He proposes dropping the “D” and relabeling it Post Traumatic Stress, and reclassifying it as an illness rather than a disorder.

Supporters of Bush’s proposal say that the “D” carries heavy social stigma. Former Navy Seal Brandon Webb told CNN that many vets experience judgment conferred by the PTSD label and a feeling “that they’re ‘damaged goods.’”

Reclassification of PTSD as the illness “PTS” would connote that it can be treated, says Bush. “Employers would not hesitate to hire an employee getting treated for a medical condition like diabetes or high blood pressure, and they should not hesitate to hire veterans getting treated for post-traumatic stress,” he says.

While many veterans groups praised Bush’s efforts, Dr. Jeanne Stellman of Columbia University said it is more important to reclassify PTSD as an illness rather than removing the ‘D” from the title.

However, she also said that de-stigmatizing PTSD is possible, citing the example of afflictions such as AIDS in which similar measures and public education served to lessen their pernicious social scars.

Filed under: SOTU Extra • State of the Union
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