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Nidal Malik Hasan case: Are Army psychiatrists overwhelmed?

The shootings at Fort Hood Thursday point to a military mental-health system stretched to the breaking point. The suspect is an Army psychiatrist, Nidal Malik Hasan.

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The case of Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist who is the primary suspect in the Fort Hood shooting spree Thursday that killed 13 people, is pointing up the enormous need to help soldiers overwhelmed by the stress – or even the prospect – of serving in wartime.

As the military begins its eighth year of the war on terror, much of the focus has been on the inability to fully support the growing number of troops diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury. But the events at Fort Hood cast the issue even wider.

According to reports, Mr. Hasan desperately wanted to avoid being deployed to a war zone. While there appeared to be several reasons for this, including a conviction that he was a victim of harassment, he was also troubled by the stories he heard from overseas.

The lack of mental-health counselors has been an ongoing problem that both the military and the Veterans Affairs have been working to resolve in recent years.

"The system is largely playing catch-up to the explosion in demand for mental-health care," says Meredith Munger Leyva, the spouse of a naval officer and editor of CinCHouse.com, a website serving the military-spouse community.

To keep up with the demand, the military has turned to private contractors who do not know the rigors of combat or some of the other stresses military personnel endure, Ms. Leyva says.

The shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, hark back to a similar violent outburst in Baghdad in May, in which five soldiers were killed when a fellow soldier struggling with depression opened fire at a stress clinic.

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