Military’s Mental-Health System Faces Shortage of Providers, Lack of Good Diagnostic Tools

The shooting rampage at Fort Hood has once again focused attention on the military’s ­mental-health system, which, despite improvement efforts, has struggled to address a tide of psychological problems brought on by more than a decade of war.

Military leaders have tried to understand and deal with mounting troop suicides, worrying psychological disorders among returning soldiers, and high-profile violent incidents on military installations such as the one that left four people dead and more than 16 injured at the Army post in Texas on Wednesday.

But experts say problems persist. A nationwide shortage of mental-health providers has made it difficult for the military to hire enough psychiatrists and counselors. The technology and science for reliably identifying people at risk of doing harm to themselves or others are lacking.

Officials have yet to identify a motive behind the actions of the Fort Hood shooter, Army Spec. Ivan A. Lopez, who took his own life. But they have said he was taking medications for anxiety and depression.

Lopez had reported sustaining a traumatic brain injury and was being screened for post-traumatic stress disorder, which is thought to affect as many as 20 percent of veterans of recent wars. None of Lopez’s known issues suggest he was at risk for committing violence, and military leaders have said there were no warning signs. Lt. Gen. Mark A. Milley, the commanding general at Fort Hood, said Friday that an examination of Lopez’s record showed no combat injuries or contact with the enemy.