Sitting on a black leather couch surrounded by piles of medical documentation, former Army medical sergeant and post-traumatic stress disorder sufferer Ameerah Turner said her request for leave was denied right before her mental breakdown in 2008, just like Fort Hood shooter Spc. Ivan A. Lopez.
Turner, who joined the Army in 2000, was honorably discharged after a psychotic episode that resulted in her dual diagnosis of Bipolar II and post-traumatic stress disorder in 2008. She never saw combat.
Her breakdown, she said, resulted from a cocktail mix that included a taxing work schedule, family illnesses and leave requests that were repeatedly denied. Six years later, she takes more than 18 different prescribed medications to address her psychological issues and side effects from other medication.
It’s a case that is not extremely uncommon, said a Killeen-based private therapist with more than 25 years experience treating PTSD-related cases, who did not want to be named.
The denied leave, the work load, a mental health stigma and the Army’s standardized treatment procedures are all situations that can leave a person feeling like they have no control, the therapist said.
Turner and the therapist also confirmed that leave is often offered, but then granted or denied on the whims of commanding officers.
“I can sympathize, but I’m not rationalizing anything this young man did, but I’m there. I wanted to hold his hand,” Turner said, referring to Lopez.
Turner said she repeatedly warned Army supervisors in 2008 they were pushing her too hard.
“I’m not asking for an excuse, but the edge was coming,” she said.
Turner, who like Lopez did not see combat, had an abusive mother and a father who made her psychologically vulnerable to developing PTSD.
Once diagnosed with both mental illnesses in 2008, she was required to see a psychiatrist once every three months but was given the option to see a counselor.
Counselors often address traumatic issues by helping to steer patients through behavioral therapy, a nonpill-related treatment. They also help keep an eye on the side effects of medication, the therapist said.
Several of her patients were veterans who had previously only seen psychiatrists, which was probably the result of the Army’s overwhelmed mental heath care system, she said.
According to an Army news service report, the Department of Veteran Affairs, the Army and several other military services began standardizing the diagnosis and treatment of PTSD in 2012.
The reasons for the standardization included mental health stigmas, a lack of trust in military behavioral health professionals and a lack of participation by servicemen.
The Defense Department spent $2.1 billion on military mental health issues in 2012, and used multidisciplinary approaches when appropriate, said Kevin Dwyer, DOD spokesman.
The multiple pills prescribed to Turner have unpleasant side effects, she said.
“I went to being 147 pounds, and now I’m 212 and that’s all from taking these medications,” said Turner, who vomits every morning as a result of her medications. “But if I tell (doctors) I’m sick, they’re going to give me something for the nausea.”
If she does not take the pills prescribed or make it to appointments in Temple, Turner said she will be considered a “noncompliant” patient.
Services and help are available to people like Turner and Lopez, but a long backlog of patients and multiple hoops to jump through make it difficult to get treatment in a timely and effective manner, Turner said.
“I don’t want to be doing this. I’m supposed to be on a cane because of all the side affects of these pills,” she said. “I don’t want to live like this,”
Fort Hood could not be reached for comment.