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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 11/22/09

Fort Hood: A Harbinger Of Things To Come?

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Message Bryant Welch
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The Army knew that Fort Hood shooter Major Nidal Malik Hasan was shouting political and religious harangues to patients during his therapy sessions at Walter Reed Army Hospital.

When that happens in a psychiatric setting, it is time to radio Houston that we have a problem.

Instead of admitting the serious break down in Army quality control, each day the Army provides a new explanation of why blame for the Fort Hood shootings should be laid at the feet of Muslim terrorists and not the US military.

This problem the military has in confronting psychiatric problems is longstanding.

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Unless there is a dramatic change in the military's use of mental health expertise there will be more Fort Hoods as our troops return from Iraq and Afghanistan with serious psychiatric disorders.

Unfortunately, instead of making the needed changes to improve quality, the military has recently announced plans to paper over the problem by providing our troops with superficial new mental health treatments that could prove very harmful, especially when applied to the severe psychiatric disturbances caused by military duty.

The History

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Historically, sensitivity to mental health needs in the military was absent. In more recent times, the sight of homeless veterans on our nation's streets coupled with news stories of veterans' erupting into inexplicably violent behavior made it hard for the military to continue to deny the problem of obviously unmet mental health needs.

The military has not necessarily used its new allocation for mental health resources to provide high quality mental health care, however. Instead, it has tried to downplay serious mental health issues and co-opted mental health resources for other military objectives.

During the first Persian Gulf War, for example, there were seven thousand children who had both parents deployed in harm's way. Then-Congresswoman Barbara Boxer chaired a subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee and held hearings on the psychological implications of this for the children involved. Three military psychiatrists and I were asked to testify.

At this time, I had been in the forefront of the many turf battles that have characterized the competitive relationship between American Psychiatry and American Psychology. I was relieved to be in a setting where accord seemed guaranteed. Having both parents in harm's way obviously was psychologically traumatic for children. We would not disagree on that one.

I was the first to testify. After I described the psychological trauma this kind of separation could cause for young children and made recommendations how to minimize that trauma, I quickly realized that my assumption of professional concurrence on the matter was ill-founded.

The testimony from the military psychiatrists was all to this effect: "Kids are tough." "Kids are resilient." "Adversity makes kids stronger." And then there was my personal favorite: "Mozart's greatness as an adult was caused by his father's death when Mozart was still a little boy." These were verbatim statements from the military psychiatrists.

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In the subcommittee hearing, trained psychiatrists spouting pseudo-psychiatric nonsense were literally trying to convince the panel to ignore the psychological trauma that war causes for children who have both parents in harm's way. Themes of toughness, resilience, and growth through adversity were bastardized and taken to extreme degrees. The military wanted to neglect the psychological trauma suffered by military children, and it used these three psychiatrists to achieve that objective.

The most extreme example of this exploitation of mental health expertise occurred when military mental health resources were used in the service of torture. As I reported last June in the Huffington Post when it came time to develop and implement instruments of torture, psychologists with close ties to Senator Daniel Inouye's office were very useful handmaidens to the CIA and the military.

Dr. Martin Seligman, for example, a recent past president of the American Psychological Association, provided training to a group of CIA psychologists, including those psychologists now known to have developed the torture techniques used by the Bush Administration in its "enhanced interrogation program."

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Bryant L. Welch, J.D., Ph.D is a clinical psychologist and attorney and author of State of Confusion: Political Manipulation and the Assault on the American Mind. (Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin's Press, June, 2008.) Dr. Welch graduated from Harvard (more...)
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Fort Hood: A Harbinger Of Things To Come?