As journalists covering the Fort Hood mass shooting ponder possible connections between the shooter's mental health and his crime, they have largely ignored a major factor behind the inadequate support and treatment military service members have received for mental health conditions more generally: the vast over-commitment of troops to fight two wars simultaneously for over a decade.
Spec. Ivan Antonia Lopez killed three people and wounded 16 others before taking his own life at Fort Hood, TX, on April 2. Lopez served a four-month term in Iraq, though he reportedly did not see combat. He was being treated for depression and anxiety, and was in the process of being evaluated for post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. PTSD can be triggered by a broad spectrum of emotional and physical traumas, including the loss of a loved one, seeing the after-effects of violence, and experiencing sexual assault, but it is still unclear if Lopez had this condition and the nature of his treatment is largely unknown. An Army psychiatrist who examined Lopez recently reportedly found no "sign of likely violence, either to himself or to others."
Many individuals with PTSD never demonstrate violent behavior, and the likelihood that they will commit mass murder "is extraordinarily small," according to Janice Krupnick, a professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine. (Studies have shown that people with mental health conditions in general are more often the victims of violent crime than the perpetrators.)
Again, Lopez's mental health may prove entirely irrelevant to the mass shooting. But a story that has been largely undercovered in the media is how rising rates of depression, suicide, and PTSD in the military relate to the military's over-commitment in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. In order to supply enough service members to fight two wars simultaneously, the military abandoned previous regulations and put stress on already limited support systems, causing what commanders refer to as "overstretch."
Before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Defense Department standards disqualified recruits who suffered from PTSD and hadn't receive treatment. But Army mental health experts acknowledged early on that those standards were being relaxed in light of the troop shortage. The need for more troops to fight both Iraq and Afghanistan -- and meet the Bush administration's specified troop commitment levels -- required Army mental health experts "to weigh the needs of the Army" ahead of the needs of the individuals. The Associated Press reported in 2006 (emphasis added):
Although Defense Department standards for enlistment disqualify recruits who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, the military also is redeploying service members to Iraq who fit that criteria, the [Hartford Courant reported].
"I'm concerned that people who are symptomatic are being sent back. That has not happened before in our country," said Dr. Arthur S. Blank, Jr., a Yale-trained psychiatrist who helped to get Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder recognized as a diagnosis after the Vietnam War.
The Army's top mental health expert, Col. Elspeth Ritchie, acknowledged that some deployment practices, such as sending service members diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome back into combat, have been driven in part by a troop shortage.
"The challenge for us ... is that the Army has a mission to fight. And, as you know, recruiting has been a challenge," she said. "And so we have to weigh the needs of the Army, the needs of the mission, with the Soldiers' personal needs."
An Army-funded review of the mental health of soldiers who served from 2004 to 2009 found "one in five Army soldiers enter the service with a psychiatric disorder, and nearly half of all soldiers who tried suicide first attempted it before enlisting."
And it's not just new recruits. The Washington Post reported that a diagnosis and lack of treatment for PTSD was also no longer "a barrier to being redeployed" for troops sent to Iraq and Afghanistan, despite the fact that military mental health experts knew for years that redeployment without treatment could drastically increase the risk of damaging mental health conditions. In 2006, a Department of Veteran's Affairs study revealed that within just 30 days of redeployment Army and Marine Corps service members showed higher mental health concerns and higher probable PTSD rates. The risk increases with each additional deployment; one study found that 27 percent of soldiers reported serious combat stress or depression symptoms on their third deployment.
A 2010 PBS Frontline special highlighted how the surge -- in which more than 20,000 additional troops were committed to Iraq in 2007 on top of existing forces -- particularly forced the recruitment and redeployment of troops who would otherwise have been ineligible. The special focused on the Third Platoon, which was sent back to Iraq after only one year at home, and then had their deployment extended to fifteen months. "The military now acknowledges that is not enough time for soldiers to recuperate," PBS reported. "Our ultimate goal is one year deployed, two years home," Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, then-Army vice chief of staff, told PBS. "We have not reached that goal for all units. It's a supply and demand problem. I cannot do anything about the demand. I only have a finite supply. And when the demand goes up, and orders are given, we provide the soldiers."
A decade ago, the Associate Press reported that roughly 1 in 8 returning soldiers suffered from PTSD, according to the Army's first study of the mental health of troops who fought in Iraq. Now estimates place it closer to 2 in 10 -- a 60 percent increase. Suicide rates dipped last year from their alarming highs over the course of the wars. The rate of suicide (which can be sparked by a range of mental health issues) for those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan more than doubled from 2004 to 2009, while the rate for those who never deployed nearly tripled. Last year, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced that 22 veterans kill themselves every day.
There is some hope. President Obama issued an executive order in 2012 ordering Veterans Affairs to expand its suicide prevention and mental health services, and the Army has upped the number of mental-health professionals traveling with troops in the field. Following the previous Fort Hood shooting, in 2009, the Defense Department implemented numerous changes, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel remains committed to implementing those improvements in the system.
But according to Defense Department data, about 2.5 million Americans in the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard, and related Reserve and National Guard units have been deployed in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. 400,000 service members have completed three or more deployments. Nearly 37,000 have been deployed more than five times. An excellent in-depth look at veterans from The Washington Post, published just days before the recent Fort Hood shooting, noted that more than half of the millions who were deployed "struggle with physical or mental health problems stemming from their service."
With those numbers, is it really any wonder that the military has struggled to provide adequate support to Ivan Lopez and others like him?
Image via Flickr user Dave O using a Creative Commons License
Fox News' timeline of the administration's response to Benghazi omitted President Obama calling the attack an act of terror, which he did repeatedly in the days following the September 2012 tragedy.
During the April 2 congressional testimony of former Deputy Director of the CIA Mike Morell, in which Morell explained his role in helping craft the administration's response to the terrorist attacks in Libya, on-screen graphics labelled "Fox Facts" provided a timeline of the administration's actions in 2012. The timeline claimed that the White House did not call Benghazi a "terrorist attack" until September 20, instead saying the attacks "stemmed from protests":
Addressing the nation on September 12, the day immediately after the attacks, Obama said: "No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for. Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America."
The next day in Colorado, Obama again referred to the Benghazi attack as an act of terror.
Then-UN Ambassador Susan Rice went on Sunday political talk shows September 16, and based her remarks on the "talking points" which had been written by the CIA based on intelligence available at the time. Rice made clear during her appearances that her comments were based on "our current best assessment" that the Libya attacks were not premeditated, acknowledged that the perpetrators were "extremists," and said that future investigations and analyses by intelligence services "will tell us with certainty what transpired." The suggestion that the attacks stemmed from protests against an anti-Islam film came from those same CIA talking points.
Fox has attempted to rewrite the timeline of the terrorism comments multiple times, repeatedly insisting that the President and the White House did not accurately characterize the attacks, even going so far as to suggest the administration was engaged in a cover-up. During the 2012 election, Fox figures blasted CNN's Candy Crowley for accurately explaining that the President had immediately described the attacks as terror, with one Fox show airing a graphic of Crowley on fire.
Billionaire Sheldon Adelson has a history of illegal behavior and controversial comments -- facts that were left out of mainstream print reporting on GOP candidates trying to win his favor last week.
The Republican Jewish Coalition met March 27-29 in Las Vegas, and the event was dubbed the "Adelson Primary" as GOP presidential hopefuls used the meeting to fawn over magnate Sheldon Adelson. Adelson is the chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp., a casino and resort operating firm, who reportedly spent nearly $150 million attempting to buy the 2012 election with donations to a super PAC aligned with Mitt Romney and other outside groups (including Karl Rove's American Crossroads). Before switching allegiance to Romney, Adelson had donated millions to Newt Gingrich. He has also given generously in the past to super PACs associated with a variety of Republican politicians, including Scott Walker, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, George W. Bush, and Eric Cantor.
Hoping to benefit from Adelson's largesse, potential 2016 Republican candidates including Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI), Gov. John Kasich (R-OH), and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush gathered at Adelson's casino to "kiss the ring."
While Republicans' efforts to court Adelson made big news in print media over the past week, none of the articles mentioning Adelson in The New York Times, Washington Post, Politico, or The Wall Street Journal mentioned that he has come under investigation for illegal business practices, including bribery, or his history of extreme remarks.
Right-wing media have spent nearly a decade making false claims about birth control -- and now those falsehoods have found their way into the mouths of Supreme Court justices.
The Supreme Court on March 25 heard consolidated arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, which examine whether for-profit businesses can deny employees health insurance coverage based on the owners' personal religious beliefs, a radical revision of First Amendment and corporate law. The owners of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga argue they should not be forced by the government to provide their employees insurance which covers certain forms of contraception, because they believe those types of birth control can cause abortions.
The owners are wrong. Medical experts have confirmed they are wrong, repeatedly and strenuously, including experts at the National Institute of Health, the Mayo Clinic and the International Federation of Gynecology. The contraceptives Hobby Lobby objects to -- which include emergency contraceptives like Plan B and long-term contraceptives like Intrauterine Devices (IUDs) -- delay an egg from being fertilized, and as the former assistant commissioner for women's health at the FDA noted, "their only connection to abortion is that they can prevent the need for one."
Despite this overwhelming medical evidence, the myth that some of the contested forms of birth control are "abortifacients" has gone all the way to the Supreme Court -- and now has been repeated by some of the justices themselves. During the oral arguments in the Hobby Lobby case, Justice Antonin Scalia responded to a point made by Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, the lawyer for the government, by referring to "birth controls ... that are abortifacient."
JUSTICE SCALIA: You're talking about, what, three or four birth controls, not all of them, just those that are abortifacient. That's not terribly expensive stuff, is it?
GENERAL VERRILLI: Well, to the contrary. And two points to make about that. First, of course the -- one of the methods of contraception they object to here is the IUD. And that is by far and away the method of contraception that is most effective, but has the highest upfront cost and creates precisely the kind of cost barrier that the preventive services provision is trying to break down.
Justice Stephen Breyer, while describing the position of the Hobby Lobby owners, also referred to "abortifacient contraceptives."
This misunderstanding matters because it could determine the outcome of the case. In order to win, a majority of justices may have to understand there is a compelling government interest in facilitating equal access to contraceptives across health insurance plans. It is an entirely different and more difficult question if the justices examine whether there is a compelling interest in the government facilitating access to abortion. Even though federal law explicitly prohibits federal funding of abortion and these birth control methods are not abortifacients, if the justices mistakenly think abortion is involved, this case becomes far more dangerous.
So whether the employees of for-profit companies like Hobby Lobby are guaranteed access to basic preventative health care could ultimately come down to whether the justices act on the reality that these forms of birth control do not cause abortions. Whether for-profit companies are considered religious persons, a drastic change to constitutional corporate law, could come down to whether the justices act on the reality that these forms of birth control do not cause abortions. Whether the rights of gay and lesbian employees are respected, and whether taxes, vaccines requirements, minimum wage, overtime laws are all upheld could come down to whether the justices act on the reality that these forms of birth control do not cause abortions.
This simple lie about birth control could set up a chain of events that drastically alter health care by rewriting First Amendment and corporate law in this country -- and it's a lie that comes straight from the media, who have been pushing it for almost a decade.
Studies came out as early as 2004 pushing back on the idea that Plan B caused abortions, but Media Matters has repeatedly noted the tendency of journalists to get their facts wrong when addressing the issue. In 2005, CNN host Carol Costello gave a platform to a pharmacist who refused to fill a prescription for birth control pills because she thought they were equivalent to "chemical abortion." In 2007, Time magazine called the morning-after pill "abortion-inducing," while an AP article pushed the false Republican claims that emergency contraception destroys "developing human fetuses." In 2010, The Washington Times repeatedly equated emergency contraception to abortion.
And there was Lila Rose, the anti-abortion activist who in 2011 released videos heavily edited to deceptively portray practices at Planned Parenthood clinics, and who has equated contraception to "abortion-inducing drugs" which she claims exploit women. Rose and her mentor, James O'Keefe, defended their manipulation and falsification of evidence as "tactics" against the "genocide" of abortion, and she was supported and promoted on The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity's America, The Glenn Beck Show, The Laura Ingraham Show, while her work was been featured by Reuters, the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Times, and National Review.
When the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010, and medical experts including the Institute of Medicine recommended including comprehensive coverage for contraception as part of the preventative care provisions, right-wing media freaked out, calling it "immoral" and "a way to eradicate the poor." Fox News ignored the overwhelming support for the resulting contraception policy, instead pretending that Catholic hospitals and employers were being victimized -- even as exemptions and accommodations were included for churches and religious nonprofits. By 2012, Fox News' Michelle Malkin was referring to the contraception regulations as an "abortion mandate." Now, right-wing media figures have used the Hobby Lobby case and others to bring back this lie, from Fox News to the Wall Street Journal, while Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham have become particularly fond of discussing these "abortifacients."
As Media Matters has previously explained, right-wing talking points demonizing birth control made their way into the amicus briefs presented to the court before the case was even argued, and Justice Scalia in particular has been known to repeat verbatim right-wing myths, such as the dubious idea that if the Supreme Court upheld the ACA the federal government could ultimately require consumers to purchase broccoli.
But the presence of the "abortifacient" lie during oral arguments takes this worrying tendency to a new level, raising the prospect that right-wing media's lies could potentially determine the outcome of a crucial case for religious and corporate law, hugely damaging reproductive rights in the process. If women lose the guarantee for their basic preventative health care, and corporations are granted even more flexibility as "persons" with religious rights, right-wing media will be partly to blame.
Newspaper coverage of the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood lawsuits downplayed the possibility that the Supreme Court could expand the concept of corporate personhood when ruling on the cases, which examine whether for-profit businesses can deny employees health insurance coverage for birth control based on the owners' personal religious beliefs. Only 3 out of 24 articles on the case in five major U.S. newspapers mentioned the potential unpopular expansion of corporate rights in the headline or first sentence.
Daily Caller Editor-in-Chief Tucker Carlson has apologized for reporter Patrick Howley's sexist and inappropriate comments about Buzzfeed's Rosie Gray, but Howley has a history of pushing misogynistic rhetoric at Carlson's outlet.
On March 19, Howley sparked backlash for tweeting "Not to make an obvious point, but who the Hell would want to pump Rosie Gray?" and "'Pumping' @RosieGray must be the most traumatic experience since Somalia," in response to a blog post which had pushed the sexist and crude suggestion that Gray got her Buzzfeed stories through a sexual relationship with another reporter. Howley and Carlson, his Daily Caller boss, subsequently apologized to Gray for the tweets, and Howley has deleted his entire twitter account.
Howley's comments were disgusting. But they were not terribly surprising -- he has previously dismissed rape culture, tweeting it "has nothing to do with rape. It's a smear for the sports, beer culture that libs hate," and his writing for the Caller has included inappropriate and demeaning attacks on women.
New research confirms that providing women access to free birth control does not result in women having sex with more partners -- a false claim that has been repeatedly pushed and promoted by conservative media, and which contributes to their efforts to stigmatize women's sexuality.
Providing women with no-cost contraception did not result in "riskier" sexual behavior (defined by the researchers as "sex with multiple partners") but did reduce unintended pregnancies and abortions, according to a comprehensive study from the Washington University School of Medicine.
As Amanda Duberman noted at the Huffington Post, having new empirical data to push back on the moralizing arguments against birth control is helpful, but raises the question: "why do we care?" The fact that researchers felt the need to study this particular claim about birth control at all reveals an "implicit stigmatization" of women's sexuality (emphasis added):
It is a small, pervasive set of voices that leads researchers to consider "multiple sexual partners" over the course of an entire year "risky sexual behavior."
The past decade of research has confirmed what women's health advocates already knew: the benefits of reducing barriers to birth control access far outweigh any subjectively determined adverse effects.
What's unfortunate is that making a case for something many women need relies on the implicit stigmatization of their sexuality. That researchers and health advocates need to presume harsh judgement of sexually active women to convince skeptics of birth control's utility just reminds us how far we have to go.
Duberman is right; it should not matter whether women have more or less sex when taking birth control pills. But it's not just a small set of conservative political voices pushing this offensive criticism of women's sexuality and inspiring scientific research. Conservative media have played a role in forcing this conversation, repeatedly slut-shaming women who use birth control and insisting that anyone who supports government funding for free contraceptives is equivalent to a prostitute.
Conservative radio host Mark Levin is receiving the "inaugural" Andrew Breitbart Defender of the First Amendment Award at noon today at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the annual conference for right-wing activists.
The award, named after the conservative media entrepreneur who passed away in 2012, will be presented by top executives at Breitbart News, the website he founded, and by Citizens United President David Bossie.
Levin has a long history of pushing conservative lies and hateful rhetoric, including recently comparing marriage equality to incest, polygamy, and drug use, comparing supporters of the new health care law to Nazi "brown shirts," claiming "middle class" is a "Marxist term," supporting racial profiling, and likening immigration reform to the "destruction" and "unraveling" of society.
According to Breitbart News, Levin is winning the award because he "fearlessly and passionately stands up for conservatives and everyday Americans whose voices the mainstream press often tries to marginalize or silence."
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) exploded at House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) during a hearing about the IRS' inappropriate targeting of organizations seeking tax exempt status, specifically criticizing Issa for releasing relevant evidence to Fox News without also providing it to the committee.
During Issa's recent appearance on Fox News Sunday, the network aired selectively quoted emails from ex-IRS official Lois Lerner, claiming they revealed evidence of "political targeting" by the IRS which may have extended as far as the White House. Media Matters has obtained the emails, which instead show Lerner specifically instructing colleagues to not focus on political activity while scrutinizing tax-exempt organizations.
Issa adjourned the March 5 House Oversight Committee hearing after Lerner testified that she would plead the Fifth and not answer the committee's questions. Cummings responded that he still had a statement and a question, which he proceeded to offer even while his microphone was cut off and Issa left the room. In his remarks Cummings accused Issa of providing Fox News with details of the investigation which were not provided to the committee (emphasis added):
CUMMINGS: For the past year, the central Republican accusation in this investigation [microphone cut]
ISSA: We're adjourned, close it down.
CUMMINGS: -- that this was political collusion directed by, or on behalf of, the White House. Before our committee received a single document or interviewed one witness, Chairman Issa went on national television and said, and I quote, "This was the targeting of the President's political enemies effectively and lies about it during the election year." End of quote.
ISSA: Ask your question.
CUMMINGS: If you will sit down, and allow me to ask the question, I am a member of the Congress of the United States of America. I am tired of this. We have members over here each who represent between them 700,000 people. You cannot just have a one-sided investigation. There is absolutely something wrong with that. That is absolutely un-American.
ISSA: We had a hearing. Hearing's adjourned. I gave you an opportunity to ask a question, you had no question.
CUMMINGS: I do have a question.
ISSA: I gave you time for [inaudible], you gave a speech.
CUMMINGS: Chairman, what are you hiding?
OFF-CAMERA: He's taking the Fifth, Elijah.
CUMMINGS: He continued this theme on Sunday, when he appeared on Fox News to discuss a Republican staff report, claiming that Miss Lerner was quote, at the center of this effort to, quote, target conservative groups. Although he provided a copy of his report to Fox. He refused my request to provide it to the members of the committee. The facts are, he cannot support these claims. We have now interviewed 38 employees, who have all told us the same thing. That the White House did not direct this [inaudible] or even know about it at the time it was occurring. And none of the witnesses have provided any political motivation. The Inspector General, Russell George, told us the same thing. He found no evidence of any White House involvement, or political motivation.
The Fox News segment Rep. Cummings was referring to took place on March 2, where Rep. Issa presented a draft copy of a report written by House Republicans, as well as previously undisclosed emails from Lerner, which Issa claimed revealed "evidence" of political targeting.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham (SC) sparked backlash when he sent an absurd tweet blaming the Russian invasion of Ukraine on the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya. But Graham's tweet followed in the footsteps of conservative media, who have repeatedly attempted to link Benghazi to a variety of unrelated events, or invoke the tragedy to deflect conservatives from scrutiny.
Here are just a few examples of things conservative media have linked to Benghazi:
1. Openly Gay NFL Prospect Michael Sam. Washington Times columnist Steve Deace accused President Obama and the media of using openly gay NFL prospect Michael Sam as an excuse to divert attention from Benghazi and other alleged "failures" of the Obama administration. According to Deace, liberals pounced on Sam's coming out in February in order to advance "LGBTQ propaganda" -- and to shift focus away from the 2012 attack on the American diplomatic mission.
2. Ted Nugent. CNN political commentator Ben Ferguson invoked Benghazi in order to inexplicably shield NRA board member Ted Nugent from further scrutiny for calling President Obama a "subhuman mongrel." On CNN's New Day, Ferguson argued that Texas gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott's loyalty to Nugent was no different than Obama's loyalty to former UN Ambassador Susan Rice, whom Ferguson falsely labeled a liar for her comments about Benghazi.
3. Chris Christie's Bridgegate. Fox & Friends devoted five segments during its January 10 broadcast to the scandal surrounding Republican Gov. Chris Christie and his administration's involvement in deliberate traffic gridlock across the George Washington Bridge as political retribution against a local mayor. But in every segment purporting to discuss Christie, the hosts and guests brought up Benghazi to attack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
4. The Boston Bombing. In April 2013, Rush Limbaugh invoked the New Black Panthers, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Fast and Furious, and Benghazi to pre-emptively attack Obama's handling of the Boston bombing suspect, who had been apprehended by police and charged that day with using and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction.
5. Monday Night Football, The New iPhone, And Yom Kippur. The week of the one-year anniversary of the Benghazi attacks, Fox & Friends aired an image of events that were supposedly distracting Americans from the anniversary and the ongoing conflict in Syria, including Monday Night Football, the NYC primary elections, the launch of the latest iPhone, and the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur.