Navy Yard Shooting Stirs Mental Health Debate

Navy Yard Shooting Stirs Mental Health Debate

As authorities continue to investigate last week's Navy Yard shooting, an increasing emphasis is being placed on the gunman's mental state.

Aaron Alexis, the identified shooter in the massacre that killed 12 and injured 14, accessed and entered the Washington Naval facility using his government-issued security clearance. In the wake of the tragedy, critics demand to know: why was Alexis granted such clearance when police, military, and medical records indicate a history of psychiatric problems?

Indeed, military records reveal that, as a member of the Navy, Alexis had multiple run-ins with police – some involving gun offenses. More recent reports denote mental issues, such as hallucinations and 'hearing voices' – something Alexis disclosed to police, who reportedly relayed the disclosure to the Navy. Records further indicate that Alexis checked himself into a government-run medical center for veterans, complaining of insomnia. It is worth noting that Alexis was never deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, nor does any record suggest diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder.

Critics of the military's alleged mishandling of Alexis' mental state also cite former Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning – who infamously executed the largest leak in U.S. history – and his diagnosis with gender identity and anxiety disorders.

One clinical psychologist, Barbara Van Dahlen opined, "Our country is not very good at recognizing mental health as part of overall health...[w]e don't often feel comfortable raising our hand and saying, 'gee, I'm depressed or I'm anxious. I need some help.'" While Van Dahlen admits "it's not just a military issue", she contends there is a "be tough" mentality within the armed forces.

Van Dahlen was presumably referring to the Navy's alleged oversight of Alexis' insomnia when she recently stated, "You know, sleep disturbance often tells us, there's something going on, what is that about? What is the agitation about?" While Van Dahlen stresses that there are improvements to be made, she acknowledges that there is already "a lot of effort under way." Rear Admiral John Kirby, a spokesman for the Navy, assures that the latter is true; not only are investigators examining Alexis' background "very carefully", but the Navy is exploring "his time and service...to see if there is anything that [they] missed that maybe [they] need to have addressed a little bit differently."

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also announced the launch of a broad investigation in which the Department of Defense will evaluate if and how the system failed by facilitating a screening process to examine warning signs; one that will focus, specifically, on why Alexis didn't get "picked up" during the security clearance process.

All debate aside, the majority seems to unite in a collective hope that official review of the process will prevent future tragedy.

Categories: Military News
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