As Army officials pick up the pieces after the tragedy that unfolded Thursday, when Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan allegedly walked into a soldier readiness center at Fort Hood, Texas and shot 13 people and injured as many as 30 more, the biggest question they may be asking is: Did we miss the warning signs?
In the worst attack against the military by one of their own, twelve soldiers and one Defense Department civilian were killed before Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, was taken down by a female police officer. Hasan is in stable condition in a nearby medical facility.
While the motive for the attack remains unclear, reports suggest there were some signs that Hasan was troubled. The Virginia-born Hasan had signed up with the Army after high school over the objections of his parents, but his cousin has said that after 9/11, Hasan, a devout Muslim, complained of feeling harassed by some service members for his religious background.
He was reportedly a loner who socialized little with fellow officers. He expressed strong views about US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, and apparently did not want to deploy to Afghanistan. The FBI reportedly investigated whether he was behind the inflammatory comments left on a website under the handle "NidalHasan."
He apparently got a bad performance review while working as counselor at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. Yet the Army – which promoted approximately 93 percent of their captains to majors last year – promoted him to major anyway.
"I don't think anybody would have gone to that next step to say, 'he's becoming unglued,' and 'let's make sure there are no weapons involved,' " Dr. Rosenfeld says.
Hasan, who had not deployed to a war zone, could not have been experiencing post traumatic stress disorder. But counseling traumatized soldiers can also be stressful, as can the prospect of being deployed into a war zone.
"Someone doesn't become homicidal in a vacuum," says Rosenfeld. "The setting and the situation has a tremendous amount to do with it."
The dearth of psychiatrists in the service means fewer people to monitor the doctors, who might be assumed to be healthy. There are 408 psychiatrists in the Army, including nearly 300 civilians and civilian contractors, according to Army officials in Washington, for 550,000 active duty soldiers.
As a counselor, though, Hasan would have to learned to protect himself from the emotional stress that comes with the job. "It's a stressful line of work so people learn some adaptive skills," Rosenfeld says.
The Army recently began a new program called comprehensive soldier fitness, which aims to develop and maintain physical, emotional, spiritual and social health within the service and at home. It has several components, including an online survey that can link soldiers to self-help resources.
It's "a long-term development program to help them build resilience, to give them the strength to deal with the adversity that they're going to be confronted with over the next several years," said Gen. George Casey, the Army's Chief of Staff at a press conference at Fort Hood, Texas Friday.
It's not clear how such a program could have caught Hasan before he allegedly went on the rampage, but it encourages soldiers to look out for each other – and that may be the key.
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