Friday, May 15, 2009 | 2:06 a.m.
An Army sergeant was arrested this week in Baghdad, charged with killing five fellow service members at a military mental health clinic. The shooting rampage was the worst of its kind for the American military in Iraq.
Military officials said the alleged shooter, Sgt. John M. Russell, 44, of Sherman, Texas, had been commanded to go to the clinic by a superior officer because he was showing signs of stress. Russell allegedly argued with the clinic’s staff and was told to leave. Military officials said he soon returned with a weapon and shot and killed two officers and three soldiers.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called for a full review of the military’s handling of combat stress and mental health issues in the war zone.
“It does speak to me about the need for us to redouble our efforts in terms of dealing with the stress,” Mullen said.
That is an understatement. Studies indicate that as many as one in five soldiers who have served in the combat zone have anxiety, depression or other mental health issues. The military’s handling of those afflictions has been terrible, marked by poor treatment of those seeking help and a high suicide rate among soldiers.
The sergeant’s father, John Michael Russell, said his son was finishing his third tour in Iraq and thought his commanders were trying to drive him out of the service. He said his son feared losing his job and his military pension. The elder Russell noted the stigma attached to a soldier accused of having a mental health issue.
“I think they broke him,” he said.
Although it doesn’t excuse the horrific crimes the sergeant is accused of committing, that is a complaint that has been repeated throughout units serving in Iraq.
Because the Pentagon has continually failed to address the problem, Congress should step in and make sure that those who serve in combat are given the help they need.