Friday, July 11, 2014

A veteran’s reaction to Ft. Hood shooting and Ivan Lopez

Ambulance responds to '09 Fort Hood Shooting | PHOTO CREDIT: Wiki Commons
Ambulance responds to ’09 Fort Hood Shooting | PHOTO CREDIT: Wiki Commons

On Apr. 2, 2014, Fort Hood experienced another mass shooting. Specialist (SPC/E-4) Ivan Lopez smuggled a .45 cal pistol onto the post. He hospitalized 16 people and killed three others. When the Military Police arrived on scene to confront him, he took his own life.

Reports indicate he was undergoing evaluation for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Lopez deployed to Iraq in 2011 and served there for four months, less than one-third a normal tour length. Other reports indicate he had other behavioral health issues, possibly. Confidentiality laws make these difficult to confirm, though.

Like many others across the nation, I sat taking in updates on the tragedy. They came in from multiple sources including friends and colleagues in and around the Fort Hood area. I retired from the US Army in the summer of 2011 after nearly 24 years of service. (The exact time I served is 23 years, 11 months, and 23 days). Though never directly assigned to Fort Hood, duties took me to the fort many times over my career. Along with Fort Huachuca, I consider Hood to be like “home”.

Army Capt Chris Seifert circa Spring 2001 on a training deployment with 1st Bn. 6th Inf. in Germany - Seifert was murdered in March 2003 |PHOTO CREDIT: P-G Matuszak
Army Capt Chris Seifert circa Spring 2001 on a training deployment with 1st Bn. 6th Inf. in Germany – Seifert was murdered in March 2003 |PHOTO CREDIT: P-G Matuszak

The incident resurrects feelings from other past events. Hassan’s rampage in 2009 is among them. I was in Iraq when Hassan conducted his act of terrorism. I don’t mince words. Hassan was not upset over some rejection of his application for conscientious objector status. It was an act of terrorism.  Another act even occurred in late March 2003. Sergeant (E-5) Akhbar threw a grenade into a sleeping tent on Camp Pennsylvania, Kuwait. The 101st Infantry was preparing for its first vertical envelopment, a tactical maneuver that was vital to the success of the invasion. My friend, Intelligence Officer Capt. Chris Seifert, died in the attack. Akhbar opened fire with his rifle after initiating the attack with grenades. Chris is survived by his widow and his son, who was barely a few months old when Akhbar murdered Chris.

The similarities between those incidents and Lopez’s rampage end with the soldier-on-soldier aspect, and the similar location in the case of Hassan’s terrorist attack. Akhbar and Hassan are both Muslims, both had ties to Muslim extremists, and both conducted their attacks in opposition of US military actions against terrorism. Lopez is not connected to any known terrorist group at this time.

This latest incident is personal in other ways. I have friends stationed at Hood, whose safety I did worry about. That is part of it. It’s reminiscent of the 2003 and 2009 attacks, as well. It is personal because of the characterization of veterans, particularly those of us with PTSD. Lopez’s actions are far from normal. They are far from normal even for somebody with PTSD. It is not certain if he had PTSD or not, since he was undergoing evaluation, not treatment. Yet, the old stigma of “out of control, ticking time-bomb monsters” is already echoing. Reality and stereotypes often do not align.

Those with severe, chronic PTSD often struggle with suicide. Several years ago, a group called “Stop 18″ started campaigns of awareness. At the time, veteran suicides averaged 18 a day. Now the number is closer to 21. It’s tragic. More tragic is the morals of some veterans prohibit them from inflicting fatal wounds upon themselves. Those rare few do attempt “suicide by cop”. Usually, though, it is more a plea for help than an actual attempt. Lopez  may or may not have been suicidal. What is obvious is that he was sick and disturbed. He had no place in the military. Conversely, he needed help that he earned and deserved.

Lopez’s actions are more than deplorable. They were cowardly. They were dishonorable. They are inexcusable. Blame rests on Lopez’s shoulders. Considering he was being evaluated for PTSD and TBI (and already on anti-depressants and anxiety relief medication), it’s fairly clear that his chain of command helped him in his search for the help he was in the process of receiving.

Those like Lopez are such a small minority that his actions cannot be hung like a rotting albatross on the necks of other veterans. He was one individual and not an example of the vast majority of war veterans. His actions are harming those of us who served or are serving, even though the shooting is over. Anti-gun activists are already spinning the incident towards  another gun-grab attempt, though the first law Lopez broke was to smuggle his pistol onto post. The Veterans Administration already violates Second and Fourth Amendment rights of veterans, confiscating their firearms without due process or warrant issued by a judge. The unemployment rate for veterans is much higher than the national average due to stereotypes and prejudices against war veterans as “unstable time-bombs”. Lopez’s attack just set veterans initiatives back.