Fort Hood rampage sparks call for post-combat mental health exams

Service members returning from combat should be subject to more thorough mental examinations, Rep. Tim Murphy said Sunday in response to last week’s shooting spree at Fort Hood, Texas.

The Pennsylvania Republican, a clinical psychologist in the Naval Reserves who treats soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), said the military should beef up its evaluation of troops returning from overseas.

Currently, troops are asked to fill out post-combat questionnaires meant to detect signs of mental issues, Murphy said during an appearance on CNN’s "State of the Union." 

“Many times, service members minimize what they’re saying in terms of there being a problem,” Murphy said. “They need a little more detailed ‘check-up from the neck up,’ as it’s referred to.”

Wednesday’s shooting appears to have been precipitated by a simple dispute over paperwork. But Spc. Ivan Lopez, who killed three people and injured 16 before turning his gun on himself, had reportedly been evaluated for PTSD and was grieving over the deaths of his mother and grandfather.

“My son must not have been in his right mind; he wasn’t like that,” his father has said.

Earlier in the week, Army Lt. Gen Mark Milley said investigators were “digging into” Lopez’s combat experience in Iraq and had turned up no specific evidence of traumatic events or wounds.

“His underlying medical conditions are not the direct precipitating factor,” Milley said. “We believe that the immediate precipitating factor was more likely an escalating argument in his unit area. But we're still conducting that detailed investigation, and we will address every single one of the causal and contributing factors that resulted in this horrible tragedy.”

Murphy stressed that most soldiers exposed to traumatic events are able to return to the United States and live normal, productive lives, and said he worried the Fort Hood shooting, the second on the base in five years, would add to a growing stigma facing combat veterans.

Still, he argued for a systematic approach that would act as a safety net to catch more service members suffering from distress.

“We cannot treat mental illnesses by denial and by ignoring it,” he said.