Florida airport shooting puts spotlight on veterans mental health care

The recent shooting at Fort Lauderdale airport has drawn nationwide attention to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and exposed the gaps that exist in mental health care for veterans. The attacker charged with the shooting was an Iraq veteran who may have suffered from PTSD.

Esteban Santiago is the sole suspect of the January 6 shooting that occurred in the baggage claim section of the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida. Five people died and at least six were injured in the attack when he opened fire on random travelers.

Santiago, 26, served in the Puerto Rico Army National Guard. He was discharged from the National Guard in August 2016 for unexplained absences. Authorities said he entered the FBI office in November last year, complaining about hearing voices in his head. He was then sent to a mental health center for treatment and evaluation, but released shortly.

Santiago’s family members said he seemed like a different person when he returned from Iraq. Santiago was upset over seeing two of his friends die from an improvised explosive device.

During a January 8 interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said the United States has not done enough to help veterans deal with PTSD and other mental health issues. He said PTSD was a major, ongoing problem for the military and that more action had to be taken to tackle it.

Describing PTSD as “the so-called invisible wounds of war,” Carter said, “The mental wounds are very real” for many service members returning home from the battlefield. Taking care of wounded veterans should be a priority. One way to improve mental health care for service members is to increase access to treatment and ensure help is readily available.