Though the identity of the US soldier suspected of killing at least 16 Afghan civilians has yet to be disclosed, many news outlets provided what details are available in efforts to provide a “portrait” of the shooter in efforts to determine a possible motive for the killing. For example, NBC Nightly News (3/12, lead story, 3:40, Williams) briefly broadcast that the US military is looking into whether a brain injury the suspect “suffered while in Iraq” may have contributed to his actions.
ABC World News (3/12, story 2, 2:40, Sawyer) broadcast that the suspect was stationed “at a troubled army base” in Washington State, the Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and had “four deployments to war zones” since the September 11 terrorist attacks. The soldier had reportedly passed multiple health and mental screenings and “suffered a mild brain injury after hitting his head, but was treated successfully.”
The CBS Evening News (3/12, story 3, 2:20, Pelley) aired an in-depth look at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Tacoma, Washington, and said, “Troops from that base have been involved in other unjustified attacks recently.” CBS News detailed the troubling incidents related to the base and noted, “Since 2010, 26 Lewis-McChord soldiers have committed suicide.” The network cited a veteran soldier who suggested the toll of multiple tours in combat was too much for soldiers to endure, arguing, “They’re finally going to just hit the wall and explode.”
The Time (3/13, Thompson) “Battleland” blog reports, “The homeland of the Taliban, where Sunday’s apparent civilian massacre took place, is a ‘pressure cooker'” for US soldiers “assigned there. Their nearly daily contact with bloodshed could push an unstable soldier to lash out by killing innocent Afghans, says an Army psychiatrist just back from an assignment near where the killings took place. The Army psychiatrist, who declined to be named, spoke of the 38-year old US Army staff sergeant from Washington state’s Fort Lewis who allegedly left his base and killed 16 Afghan civilians, including women and children, early Sunday outside Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.”
The AP (3/13, Vogt, Khan) notes, “There was no available indication about the extent” of the suspect’s brain injury, or whether that “injury could be linked to any abnormal behavior afterward.”
The suspect’s brain injury is also mentioned by the Wall Street Journal (3/13, A7, Trofimov, Entous, Millman, Subscription Publication), which takes note of troubles at the Lewis-McChord base and says the non-profit group GI Voice has called for a congressional investigation into “systemic failures.”
Army Investigating Claims Madigan Psychiatrists Failed To Diagnose PTSD In Soldiers. The AP (3/13, Johnson) reports in a related story, “In the past five years, about 300 patients at Madigan Army Medical Center at the base had their PTSD diagnoses reversed by a forensic psychiatry team, The Seattle Times reported this month.” According to the AP, the “Army is reviewing whether those doctors were influenced by how much a PTSD diagnosis can cost, in terms of a pension and other benefits.”
The Los Angeles Times (3/13, Murphy, Parsons) notes, “GI Voice, a local anti-war veterans support group outside Lewis-McChord that has campaigned for better mental health services, on Sunday called for a congressional investigation into the ‘multiple crises coming from this rogue base.’ ‘In 10 years of war, JBLM has produced a Kill Team, suicide epidemic, denials of PTSD treatment, denials of human rights in the brig, spousal abuse and a waterboarded daughter, murders of civilians (including a park ranger), increased sex crimes, substance abuse… and much more,'” said a statement from “GI Voice’s executive director, Jorge Gonzalez, an Iraq war veteran from Lewis-McChord.”
The Seattle Times (3/13, Doughton) notes that the 32-year-old Gonzalez was “diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after he returned home” from serving in Iraq. Gonzalez “said he was surprised that the shooter gunned down women and children, but that the incident itself was not a shock. ‘This is what happens when you have 10 years of war,’ he said.”
The Washington Times (3/13, Waterman) reports, “The soldier suspected in a shooting rampage in Afghanistan was deployed from a US base where medical personnel are being investigated for misdiagnosing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).” Now, “the Army is investigating claims that psychiatrists at the Madigan Medical Center on the Joint Base Lewis-McChord military base near Tacoma, Wash., failed to diagnose PTSD in hundreds of soldiers.” Approximately “1,500 cases have been reviewed, and 285 of the soldiers will be offered re-evaluations, according to the Western Regional Medical Command, which runs Madigan — the largest military hospital on the West Coast.”
The Huffington Post (3/13, Wood) reports, “The link between combat stress and outbursts of violence was well documented even before troops began routinely serving three, four or more combat deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade.” However, “PTSD and violence among veterans has become more prevalent. A study conducted at the Puget Sound Veterans Affairs hospital in Washington, for instance, demonstrated high levels of anger and hostility among returning combat veterans screening positive” for PTSD.
The CBS News (3/13, Tracy) website reports that it is “unknown what, if any, role PTSD played in the actions” of the Sunday killings in Afghanistan.
In a separate story, the CBS News (3/13, Tracy) website notes, “Members of Congress are now looking into allegations of how PTSD cases were handled” at Lewis-McChord. Reuters (3/13, Alexander) also covers the story.
Studies: Mental Illness Growing Problem For US Military Members In Afghanistan. The Los Angeles Times (3/13, Alpert) “World Now” blog reports that “mental illness has been a persistent and growing problem for members of the military in Afghanistan, according to several recent studies.” A study last year found that “psychological problems recently reached a five-year high among Marines in Afghanistan,” with “nearly 20% of the Marines surveyed in Afghanistan [reporting] psychological problems such as severe stress and depression in 2010, twice the rate as in 2005.” Yet “another recent study found that mental disorders and suicide rates in the military surged up between 2004 and 2008. Mental illness rates nearly doubled after troops were sent to Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army Public Health Command found.”
— “Battlefield Stress Could Have Triggered Afghan Massacre,”Mark Thompson, TIME U.S., March 12, 2012.