CNN's Ed Lavandera reports on the death of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. He was shot by a veteran with PTSD whom he was trying to help.
Brandon Webb trained Chris Kyle to be a Navy SEAL sniper. In this interview, Webb tells Anderson Cooper about Kyle's work with vets who have ptsd, including the man who killed him.
From the invasion of Afghanistan until last summer, the U.S. military had lost 761 soldiers in combat there. But a higher number in the service — 817 — had taken their own lives over the same period. The surge in suicides, which have risen five years in a row, has become a vexing problem for which the Army's highest levels of command have yet to find a solution despite deploying hundreds of mental-health experts and investing millions of dollars. And the elephant in the room in much of the formal discussion of the problem is the burden of repeated tours of combat duty on a soldier's battered psyche.
The problem is exacerbated by the manpower challenges faced by the service, because new research suggests that repeated combat deployments seem to be driving the suicide surge. The only way to apply the brakes will be to reduce the number of deployments per soldier and extend what the Army calls "dwell time" — the duration spent at home between trips to war zones. But the only way to make that possible would be to expand the Army's troop strength, or reduce the number of soldiers sent off to war.
"It's frankly frustrating that with the level of effort that we've put out there, that we haven't stemmed the [suicide] tide," General George Casey, the Army's top officer, told a House panel March 23. When pressed by a lawmaker the previous month on whether the Army was getting closer to solving the challenge, Army Secretary John McHugh was blunt. "Sadly, the answer is not much closer," he told the Senate Armed Services Committee Feb. 23. "As to why people take this step — particularly as to why men and women in uniform do — we're still in many ways befuddled."
Befuddled and frustrating are not words routinely deployed by Army leaders. But the service's suicide rate continues to rise (it doubled between 2001 and 2006) while remaining flat in the civilian population, even when adjusted to reflect the Army's age and gender. Last year, 160 active-duty soldiers killed themselves, up from 140 in 2008 and 77 in 2003. In order to get a better grip on the causes of the problem, the service has issued new orders telling its commanders how to conduct future suicide investigations so that they are consistent across the board, spokesman Gary Tallman says. The directive's stated goal is to pinpoint "the circumstances, methods and contributing factors surrounding the event" in hopes of generating "clear, relevant and practical recommendation(s) to prevent future suicides." The Army wants to know all about the dead soldier's personal relationships, final conversation, financial status, recent moods and other personality traits.
AC360° Associate Producer
The suspect in the Fort Hood shootings, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, is a mental-health professional who worked to help others in high-stress situations. A soldier who served two tours in Iraq and is awaiting medical retirement for chronic PTSD referred to Hasan as "a soldier's soldier who cared about our mental health."
The impact on therapists who work with traumatized individuals is known as vicarious traumatization – or compassion fatigue. The motive behind Hasan’s attack is uncertain, but some believe that in addition to working with people suffering from mental health problems, he too may have been troubled.
This has left many of us at AC360° wondering about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and whether or not it played a role in the shooting. What we know for sure, however, is that the shooting at Fort Hood could give rise to PTSD among many of the people impacted.
Here are some details on PTSD compiled by the Mayo Clinic:
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a type of anxiety disorder that's triggered by a traumatic event. You can develop post-traumatic stress disorder when you experience or witness an event that causes intense fear, helplessness or horror.
Many people who are involved in traumatic events have a brief period of difficulty adjusting and coping. But with time and healthy coping methods, such traumatic reactions usually get better. In some cases, though, the symptoms can get worse or last for months or even years. Sometimes they may completely disrupt your life. In these cases, you may have post-traumatic stress disorder.
Alexandra Poolos and Ismael Estrada
Jerri Hyde first sent Anderson an email in July. In it, she wrote that her sons Donald and Daniel had both served in Iraq. Dan, 23, worked as an explosives expert in the Marines, and Don, 25, had been in the Army. Both, Jerri wrote, now suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and weren't getting the help they needed.
"I am writing because I feel Mr. Cooper just might be the one to listen," Jerri wrote. "My sons are suffering PTSD after serving our country. And getting no help. I don't understand this."
Jerri's email arrived after visiting her younger son Dan in Texas.
When we first called her, Jerri told us that Dan's problems seemed minor when compared to his older brother Don’s, who had deserted the military almost six months ago after reenlisting for another tour of duty. Don didn't know what to do now that he deserted the army. Jerri didn't know where he was hiding, just that he was somewhere in their home state of Illinois. For three months, the family kept in touch, and then finally in late September, Don reached out and said he wanted to talk.
The killing of five comrades by a U.S. soldier on Monday in Iraq is no surprise and illustrates the mental toll that the current wars take on troops, the leader of a veterans group said.
"It's tragic. I mean, It's deeply disturbing, but I don't think folks who have been in the [war] theater are surprised," said Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
Rieckhoff talked with CNN's Anderson Cooper on Monday night about the killings.
The "unprecedented" number of times that soldiers are redeployed to Iraq and Afghanistan adds to the stress soldiers are feeling, Rieckhoff said.
"There's a study of one in four folks coming back [from war] with some kind of stress-related mental health injury. But these folks are going back over and over again," he said. "Each time you're deployed, you're more likely to have a mental health disability. There's not enough psychologists, psychiatrists in theater."
Program Note: Tune in tonight to hear more on the charges on AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.
The U.S. soldier who killed five fellow troops at a stress clinic in Iraq apparently used a weapon he wrested away from another soldier to carry out the act, a defense official said Tuesday.
The shooter was identified as Army Sgt. John M. Russell, according to Maj. Gen. David Perkins, the military spokesman who briefed reporters in Baghdad.
Russell has been charged with five counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault after Monday's shooting at Camp Liberty, near Baghdad International Airport, Perkins added.
A 44-year-old communications specialist from Sherman, Texas, Russell is serving his third tour in Iraq and has previously deployed to Bosnia and Kosovo, Perkins' office said.
Russell recently had been referred to counseling by his commander due to unspecified words and actions, Perkins said. The commander also ordered that the sergeant's weapon be taken away.
Josh Barber, former combat soldier, parked outside the Army hospital here one morning last August armed for war.
A cook at the dining facility, Barber sat in his truck wearing battle fatigues, earplugs and a camouflage hood on his head. He had an arsenal: seven loaded guns, nearly 1,000 rounds of ammunition, knives in his pockets. On the front seat, an AK-47 had a bullet in the chamber.
The "smell of death" he experienced in Iraq continued to haunt him, his wife says. He was embittered about the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that crippled him, the Army's failure to treat it, and the strains the disorder put on his marriage.