US soldier charged with murders at Iraq combat stress clinic
Commanding officers had determined that the sergeant was a potential danger to himself or others.
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The medical staff killed at the clinic were a Navy and an Army officer, both from the US Army Reserve's 55th medical company based in Indianapolis. It was not known whether the three enlisted soldiers who happened to be at the clinic when Russell is accused of having opened fire were there for treatment.Skip to next paragraph
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Russell had been near the end of his tour and due to redeploy back to Germany along with the 54th Engineer Battalion in August. The battalion, which has been in Iraq since May 2008, had been working under US forces in the south during its tour but Russell had been assigned to the headquarters company of the battalion on the base near Baghdad. He is currently being held in military police custody on the base.
Perkins said the sergeant, whom he said had been deployed to Iraq "at least two other times" had been referred to counseling about a week before the shooting. He was being treated as an outpatient and it was not known whether he had been prescribed medication. Perkins said he did not know at what point during the last week he had had his weapon taken away. Soldiers on US Army bases are generally required to carry their guns on the base. He said the military has launched its own investigation into how the attack might have been prevented.
The clinic has been closed and its services relocated while the staff who witnessed the attack are themselves given counseling.
"You can imagine that when something like this happens and you have five people murdered, you have a fairly chaotic situation," Perkins said.
Stigma attached to combat stress
Maj. Gen. Daniel Bolger, the US Army's commanding general for Baghdad, said the Army has been struggling to reduce the stigma of combat stress, or post-traumatic stress disorder, to encourage soldiers to seek treatment.
"That's one of the things we emphasize in our training [that] is particularly challenging for a fellow like Sergeant Russell – he's a noncommissioned officer ... so he's in a leadership capacity. So to make that trip down there is a tough decision for either him or his chain of command to make."
The military is also grappling with the effect of multiple deployments on soldiers' marriages and the strain on families back home. Transition counseling aimed at soldiers returning home has become mandatory after the military discovered a steep rise in domestic abuse and other problems among troops returning home.
"As we go to redeploy, we go through a lot of training looking for signs of mental distress, whether it's either anger management kind of stuff or suicidal, or things like that," said Perkins. "A commander has a tool kit – you can see in this case the tools [were] all being used."
This story was updated at 1:59 p.m. Eastern time.