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10 Suicides This Year at Ft. Hood -- War Stress Is Taking Soldiers to the Brink

The shooting tragedy at Fort Hood on Friday points to a much larger problem of combat stress and overdeployment in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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In a strikingly similar incident on May 11, 2009, a US soldier gunned down five fellow soldiers at a stress-counseling center at a US base in Baghdad.

Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the US military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at a news conference at the Pentagon at the time that the shootings had occurred in a place where "individuals were seeking help".

Mullen added, "It does speak to me, though, about the need for us to redouble our efforts, the concern in terms of dealing with the stress ... It also speaks to the issue of multiple deployments."

Commenting on the incident in nearly parallel terms, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that the Pentagon needs to redouble its efforts to relieve stress caused by repeated deployments in war zones that is further exacerbated by limited time at home in between deployments.

The condition described by Mullen and Gates is what veteran health experts often refer to as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

While soldiers returning home are routinely involved in shootings, suicide and other forms of self-destructive violent behaviors as a direct result of their experiences in Iraq, we have yet to see an event of this magnitude on a base in the US.

To many, the shocking story of a soldier killing five of his comrades did not come as a surprise considering that the military has, for years now, been sending troops with untreated PTSD back into the US occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

According to an Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center analysis, reported in the Denver Post in August 2008, more than "43,000 service members - two-thirds of them in the army or army reserve - were classified as non-deployable for medical reasons three months before they deployed" to Iraq.

In April 2008, the Rand Corporation released a stunning report revealing that, "Nearly 20% of military service members who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan - 300,000 in all -- report symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression, yet only slightly more than half have sought treatment."

President Barack Obama, speaking during an event at the Department of the Interior in Washington, said that the mass shooting at Fort Hood was a "horrific outburst of violence". He added: "It is horrifying that they [US soldiers] should come under fire at an army base on American soil."

Victor Agosto, an Iraq war veteran who was discharged from the military after publicly refusing to deploy to Afghanistan, has had first-hand experience with the SRC at Fort Hood, where he too was based.

"I knew there would be a confrontation when I was there, because the only reason to do that process is to deploy," Agosto, speaking to IPS near Fort Hood, explained.

Agosto was court-martialed for refusing an order to go to the SRC to prepare to deploy to Afghanistan.

"I was court-martialed for refusing the order to SRC in that very same building. I didn't enter the building, but I didn't go in because I was refusing the process," Agosto continued. "It's a pretty important place in my life, so it's interesting to me that this happened there."

*The article's text and headline incorrectly stated the number of suicides at Ft. Hood -- where there have been 10 suicides this year, not an average of 10 a month. AlterNet regrets the error.

Dahr Jamail is an independent journalist who reports from Iraq.

 
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