In yet another twist of irony, in a case already replete with it, Maj. Nidal Hasan, 39, the alleged gunman in the November 5th Fort Hood shootings, served as the co-chair of a panel which examined “Medical Issues for Psychiatrists in Disasters” at the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) annual conference held this past May in San Francisco.
Among the other experts on the panel was Col. Elspeth Ritchie, M.D., M.P.H., a Harvard-trained clinician who is widely referred to as the “Army’s top psychiatrist,” in her role as the Medical Director at the Strategic Communication Directorate Office of the Army Surgeon General.
Dr. Hasan’s role as co-chair of the panel would indicate that he was better known professionally, and more highly regarded in his field of disaster psychiatry, than has been previously reported. The annual APA conference is attended by nearly 20,000 psychiatrists and mental health professionals from around the world, and is a premiere venue for the discussion of new research and best practice treatments in psychiatry.
According to the APA, Hasan’s conference panel focused on the role psychiatrists have in treating patients in disaster settings, including how psychiatrists should be integrated into the general healthcare response teams in a disaster.
Among the issues covered by the panel, according to the program summary, was that during a disaster:
“Psychiatrists will be asked to provide psychiatric care for those with and without medical illness and, at times, may even be needed to attend directly to the medical needs of this vulnerable population. As such, it is essential that psychiatrists are aware of the most commonly encountered medical issues in the disaster setting, such as wounds . . .”
According to the APA, the other presenters on the panel were co-chair Mark Viron, M.D., a clinician affiliated with the outpatient psychiatry department at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston; Brooke Parish, M.D., a psychiatrist with disaster and forensic psychiatry training, and an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of New Mexico; Catherine May, M.D., a Washington, DC. psychiatrist; and Col. Ritchie. None of the participants on the panel have responded to phone calls or emails by deadline.
It is not known what role Dr. Hasan played, as co-chair, in proposing the panel, framing the discussion, or selecting the panelists. However, Hasan’s interactions with the other psychiatrists on the panel, all of whom are trained in treating trauma, as they prepared for and participated in the discussion about trauma and disaster less than six months before the Fort Hood shootings, may well provide additional insights into Hasan’s state of mind and his perspective prior to the tragedy.