Treating PTSD & how Hawaii military installations get the word out if tragedy strikes

Fort Hood (Photo: AP Jack Plunkett/FILE)
Fort Hood (Photo: AP Jack Plunkett/FILE)

The mass shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, Wednesday afternoon left four people dead, including the gunman.

There were 16 people were wounded. It was the second major tragedy at that installation in the last five years. The alleged shooter, Spec. Ivan Lopez, served four months in Iraq and was undergoing treatment for mental health issues. There are no indications that this was a terrorist act, but officials said they won’t rule anything out until the investigation is over. President Obama vowed that investigators will get to the bottom of what happened there. And in Honolulu for a conference with defense ministers from 10 Southeast Asian countries, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel asked the audience at a gathering Wednesday night at the Bishop Museum to take some time to remember the victims of the attack.

Violence like what happened in Fort Hood Wednesday has not visited military installations here in Hawaii.

But the attack brought up two big questions: KHON2 wanted to know if there are plans in place to alert personnel to a similar situation that might occur here in the future.

KHON2 also wanted to know how difficult it is to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and whether it is possible to determine whether a patient can turn violent.

A psychologist with 30 years of experience who’s spent some time treat patients with PTSD told KHON2 that if left untreated for any great length of time, the treatment of the disorder can be very difficult.

The shooting that occurred in November of 2009 at Fort Hood actually involved an Army psychiatrist who suffered from PTSD.

Nidal Hassan was later convicted and sentenced to death for killing 13 people and leaving many more wounded.

Psychologist Dr. Richard Kappenberg says those who suffered some from of life threatening trauma – either to themselves or someone close to them – may develop the disorder, but not everyone.

“Of the group that experiences that, we expect probably about 15 to 20 percent to develop PTSD,” said Dr. Kappenberg.

KHON2 also asked if there is any way that a psychiatrist can forecast whether someone with PTSD can turn violent like what happened at Fort Hood. “Personally, I don’t think that is easy to do that,” said Dr. Kappenberg. “There are certain people who you might be able to identify who have additional traits in their personality besides PTSD.”

KHON2 also asked Army Garrison Hawaii, with jurisdiction over Army installations like Fort Shafter and Schofield Barracks (the latter being the largest Army post in Hawaii) whether there are plans in place to alert personnel in the event of a situation like what happened in Fort. Hood.

Army Garrison Hawaii sent a statement to KHON2 late Wednesday afternoon which read in part that a safe and secure environment for our soldiers and families is our highest priority. The statement went on to say that the Army here has protective measures and notification procedures in place including social media devices like Facebook, Twitter, Nixle alerts and web page updates. The Army will also turn to phone alerts and a loudspeaker system, to name a few.

Dr. Kappenberg says when it comes to patients with PTSD, it’s best to start treatment early.

“It’s more difficult to treat a PTSD that is more intense and has been present for a longer period of time.”

Dr. Kappenberg served as a consulting neuro-psychologist at Tripler Medical Center, and said that the effectiveness of treatment for PTSD varies with the intensity and significance of the disorder.

Related story: Officials: 4 dead, including gunman, at Fort Hood

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