By Amy Hinton and Lamar Davis

On November 5 a shooting spree at the Fort Hood Soldier Processing Center in Killeen, Texas left 13 soldiers dead and another 29 wounded. Subsequently, the shocking revelation that the alleged perpetrator was an active duty Army psychiatrist seemed to defy belief.

The recent actions attributed to Major Nidal Hasan have been subject to intense media coverage. Few, however, have questioned how such a deeply troubled individual could avoid detection while working in the very mental health system that was intended to be the safety net for our returning troops.

A 2008 RAND Center for Military Health Policy research study reported two significant challenges that face the military mental health system. First, the mental health system has difficulty responding to the treatment needs of soldiers in a timely manner. This is likely due to the intense and pervasive stigma about mental illness that often prevents people from seeking mental health treatment, particularly in the military. Second, the limited availability of mental health resources – services, providers and dedicated funding -- essentially determines access to and quality of treatment. Arguably, the most serious deficiency driving these challenges is the grossly inadequate number of qualified, credentialed mental health professionals available to meet the current demand.

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