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Veteran charged with homeless murders: Hint of larger problem for US military?

A veteran charged with killing four homeless men was troubled after returning from Iraq, reports say. That has highlighted the rising mental-health problems facing the US military.

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Itzcoatl Ocampo's dress uniform, government military photo, dog tags, and a religious medallion that went to war with him lie on display at Ocampo's home in Yorba Linda, Calif., Sunday. Ocampo has been charged in a series of killings of homeless men in Orange County.

Reed Saxon/AP

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The scheduled arraignment later this week of an Iraq veteran charged with killing four homeless men in southern California has shone a spotlight on the mental-health troubles facing Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans back home – and whether communities and government agencies are equipped to help.

The Orange County district attorney said in a press conference Tuesday that he has no evidence that Itzcoatl Ocampo is mentally ill. But numerous media reports have suggested that Mr. Ocampo, who once gave money to homeless, was changed after returning from Iraq and losing a friend in the Afghanistan war.

It is too early to judge what, if any, impact a tour in Iraq had on Ocampo, say veterans and mental-health experts. But the incident has spawned greater discussion of how effective friends, families, and the US Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) can be in reintegrating such returnees, as well as spotting signs of trouble.

“The fact that the accused is a prior-service Marine and a veteran of the Iraq War underscores the critical importance of pre- and post-deployment mental health screenings and the availability of sufficient and appropriate mental-health care for all returning veterans,” says Jay Agg, national communications director for the advocacy group AMVETS, in an e-mail.

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