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The Fort Hood Killer and PTSD

When news first broke of a mass shooting at Fort Hood last week, speculation ran rampant. Was it a traumatized soldier, suffering from PTSD, who had gone over the edge?

No, the alleged killer did not have combat-induced Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. But he did treat men and women with PTSD, and that is a major issue that hardly anyone has discussed.

Major Nidal Hasan served in the U.S. Army as a psychiatrist. In this role, he worked at Walter Reed Hospital, where he was tasked with treating patients, some of whom suffered from combat-induced PTSD as a result of deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

The doctor-patient relationship is a vital piece of recovery and survival for a veteran with PTSD. That relationship must be built on trust and mutual understanding. Major Hasan had issues with his patients at Walter Reed--exactly what those are nobody is saying, but he was apparently not well liked.

No wonder. The Army sent combat veterans to a psychiatrist who sympathizes with our enemies. It makes me wonder how much psychological damage he did to his patients. While working on my book, Shadow of the Sword, I encountered a case where an army NCO suffering from PTSD was sent to a mental health professional of Middle Eastern decent whose broken English was so bad she could hardly understand him. Attempting to share intimate and deeply painful memories with somebody who reminded her of the enemies she had faced sent her fleeing from the clinic. The entire incident did tremendous damage to her.

Major Hasan's case is even worse. He and his family attended a mosque in Northern Virginia known to be radical and anti-American. Two of the 911 hijackers worshiped there. The Imam, Anwar al-Awlaki, is a known extremist. This week, al-Awlaki posted an entry on his blog entitled, "Nidal Hasan Did the Right Thing."

Major Hasan's radical views had come to the attention of the military authorities, and he himself made no attempt to hide his anti-war views. His shared his opinions on American policy in Iraq and Afghanistan frequently, and it led to much contention and resentment.

This was not a man or officer who ever should have been in a position to give treatment to veterans with PTSD. We know of the forty-two victims of his rampage at Fort Hood. But how many more victims are there really? A psychiatrist can do tremendous harm to a trusting patient who has made him/herself psychologically vulnerable during the therapy process. I would hope and expect the U.S. Army begins an investigation on this aspect of Major Hasan's career, and follows up with all those who had been under his care to make sure they are still on the road to recovery.

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