Specialist Ivan Lopez who committed suicide on April 2 after killing three people and wounding 16 others at Ft. Hood, Texas was an Army truck driver who had been diagnosed with emotional issues and prescribed Ambien, a sedative-hypnotic.
Nonetheless, Lopez was still on duty even though one side effect of Ambien is "sleep driving." But far worse, Ambien in combination with other anti-depressants – or even alcohol – also can cause "decreased inhibition (e.g., aggressiveness and extroversion that seemed out of character), bizarre behavior, agitation and depersonalization."
Why are US military doctors prescribing mind-altering drugs to service members who have been diagnosed with mental health issues, at times in combinations that are known to cause serious reactions? And why are the people who are being prescribed these potentially dangerous combinations still in the military?
No civilian truck driver could legally drive in Lopez' condition, which media reports referred to as under the influence of a "cocktail" of mind-altering pharmaceuticals. If any service member in the Vietnam era had been found in the possession of, or using, drugs of the types that are now prescribed, they would have been dishonorably discharged.
There are plenty of victims in this tragedy and I truly sympathize with the families of those who were murdered or wounded.
But I also sympathize with Lopez' father, who issued a statement to the media saying "I ask for prayers for the affected families. My son could not have been in sound mind."
To ensure that similar tragedies will not erupt on our military bases in the future we must acknowledge that the military is in the business of securing our country, not providing social services. The military needs people at the peak of physical and mental preparedness, nothing less.
The mission of the military is to protect us: to close with and destroy our enemies, and maintain a status of readiness that makes any potential enemy think twice before launching an attack. How can the military be expected to complete these missions when it is suddenly tasked with providing long-term psychiatric care to potentially thousands of troops?
If a person is physically debilitated in the armed forces he or she may be medically retired, becoming eligible for disability compensation and lifetime medical care. Why not the same treatment for a person emotionally or mentally wounded while serving?
This is not a slam at those who are disabled fighting for our country, either physically or mentally, it merely acknowledges the reality of military service. Rather than debating whether we need more or better armed military police, we should first remove the trigger to these types of incidents.
If the United States is going to send people off to wars for decades on end, it is obligated to not only provide the best training and equipment for the fighters, but the best care for wounded veterans. We should never forget the credo of the true warrior: leave no one behind on the battlefield.
And we also should remember that two members of the Obama Administration, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry, built their public personas around their combat service in Vietnam.
Perhaps they should reflect on how they would respond during a firefight if they knew their comrades had cocktails of mind-altering drugs running through their veins rather than adrenalin. They should think about their own reactions if they knew they could not count on their fellow soldiers to apply clear minds and solid training to the most dangerous of situations.
Then they should ask for an Oval Office meeting and share what they know with their Commander-in-Chief.