A man shot and killed three soldiers and wounded 16, shaking the nation to its core. Then, the realization that everything could have been prevented was brought to light. The actions of Army Specialist Ivan Lopez prompt us to pay more mind to the mental wellness of veterans in the face of the second shooting that has occurred at Fort Hood.
Lopez, who had been taking medications for both anxiety and depression, is not unique in the sense that mental health issues rose sharply among those returning from overseas. In fact, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, experts estimate that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder occurs in about 11 to 20 percent of Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The diagnosis of PTSD often accompanies other mental health problems.
With these issues stigmatized and otherwise difficult to understand, the subject of mental health isn’t only hazy socially, but also especially so in the culture of the military.
“Some advocates believe that the military has yet to treat mental-health problems with the same seriousness it gives to physical problems. They say that the military lacks adequate funding to identify and treat mental issues and that many of the diagnostic tools available inside and outside the military are outdated and inadequate,” reported the Washington Post
Our military budget, however, is highly prioritized. This brings to light whether or not we’re utilizing the budget we have in the best way possible. Last month, in response to Congress’ proposed $496 billion budget for 2015, Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Michael Barrett argued that compensation, benefits and retirement modernization weren’t on people’s minds. Rather, “they want to know into whose neck do we put a boot next. They want to know about what new equipment are we getting.”
With this emphasis on how we build ourselves in the offense, it is no surprise that we do not properly address our personnel’s health. This pressure from high-level officials seems to direct attention to the wrong areas when we currently need to be focusing on scaling back in some areas and addressing more health and human concerns in the military. We need to help those leaving the services better assimilate into everyday life while offering those still enlisted the outlets necessary to stay physically and mentally well. We’re not working with robots built simply to “put a boot in the neck.” We’re working with human beings.
Given the recent tragedy at Fort Hood, it is due time that we change our tune. Where we lack the outreach necessary to persuade our service men and women to look for and receive help, even when they doubt that it’s needed, we need to be supplying more accessible outlets to resources that can deter and combat violet outbursts and growing suicide rates. The Suicide Prevention for America’s Veterans Act, introduced last month, takes an ample step toward addressing this. The act urges for new emphasis to be placed on preventing suicide by means of intervention while simultaneously assuring that this is an issue that “will be addressed with urgency at the highest levels of government.”
Reach the columnist at Alexis.Gonzalez@asu.edu or follow her on Twitter @0Moscwow
Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.
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