By Military Connection Staff Writer Joe Silva.
Veterans with any behavioral health concerns are urged to be forthcoming when seeking help.
Aaron Alexis, the gunman of the September 16th shooting at the Washington Navy shipyard was a Navy Veteran with a history of behavioral health problems. Alexis never served in a combat zone, but reportedly witnessed the 9/11 attacks in New York, and may have had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from his experience.
But Alexis never sought treatment from a mental health specialist. At the very least, he was not forthcoming with his symptoms. In August, Alexis reportedly showed up at the Providence VA Medical Center in Providence RI, and the Washington DC VA Medical Center, seeking medication to treat his insomnia. After medical examinations at both centers, he was given small doses of medication and told to follow up with his primary care providers.
VA doctors from both centers claimed that Alexis was alert and oriented. Alexis reportedly answered questions to the effect that he was not struggling with anxiety or depression, nor had he experienced thoughts about harming himself, or others.
These answers came only weeks after Alexis had called police to a hotel in Newport, RI, where he was staying. Alexis claimed that voices were speaking to him through the wall, floor and ceiling, and that three people were following him, keeping him awake with microwave vibrations. Alexis told police that he had left two other hotels because of this problem.
Due to the stigma associated with seeking treatment for mental health issues, Veterans go unexamined and untreated. This, despite the fact that up to 20% of Veterans of the wars in Iraq & Afghanistan suffer from PTSD. Chances are, Veterans and their families are not even aware that they have a problem, or know where to go to for help.
1.7 million Service Members and Veterans are eligible for VA care. It is estimated that only around half of those will seek care. And only about half of those are diagnosed with mental health issues like PTSD and depression. These low numbers are possibly due to the Service Member or Veteran not actively seeking the help that they need.
It goes without saying that not every Veteran with mental and behavioral health disorders will commit violent acts, like Alexis did. But the tragedy at the Navy Yard should serve as an eye opener to the fact that Veterans with obvious problems are slipping through the cracks in the system. No one can hold the VA responsible for the actions that Alexis committed. But going forward, Veterans, their families and friends should be aware of the very real mental health concerns and what resources are available to them to seek examination and treatment.