The Pentagon is now flying large numbers of uniformed therapists and mental health workers into war areas to counsel troops.
The shooting at Fort Hood has affected much beyond the families of those killed and hurt. The suspected killer, Nidal Hasan was part of a plan to offer treatment to U.S. troops in Afghanistan, reaching soldiers and other members of the army that required psychological counseling. In these war zones, counselors are often not available. The Pentagon’s efforts have changed after Hasan reportedly killed 13 people and wounded another 31.
At least three of the victims killed were fellow mental health specialists that were to be sent to Afghanistan. Another six who were wounded are in the 1493rd Combat Stress Control team to which Hasan was assigned. Commanders have been struggling with the decision to either proceed with or cancel deployment of the team after the shootings occurred.
It is estimated that one in three soldier are unable to reach a counselor when they need one, this according to an Army survey conducted last year. As troops are spread out in more than 350 locations across Afghanistan, it is a tall order to send therapists to reach psychologically damaged troops. The military, in effort to reach all troops in need, have begun to send record numbers of therapists to Afghanistan.
Currently, 45 mental health workers are deployed in Afghanistan. Another 45 therapists were to join 25 behavioral health specialists in southern Afghanistan.
The push by President Barack Obama to send more troops to Afghanistan, following the demand for more mental health providers, caused Hasan to be sent into combat. Hasan did not want to go, but had served for 12 years with no deployments. The assignment was likely very stressful for him, as he had no combat experience and had never been overseas.
Mental health professionals are subject to numerous risks when deployed in Afghanistan, from flying over dangerous terrain to driving on roads filled with bombs. They are in constant risk to be stranded at a base for long periods of time, and being victim of rockets shot at outposts.
The therapists do important work, however. Soldiers that struggle with stress disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder or typical mental health issues such as grief and nightmares. They do what they can to help soldier be comfortable with the help that they are offering, from bringing a dog to pet to smoking cigars with the soldiers.
The aftermath of Fort Hood has undoubtedly had its impact on the deployments. Investigators are currently trying to determine whether Hasan should have been receiving counseling, instead of administering it.
Counselor Network Writer