A retired colonel who survived the Foot Hood shooting spree said the Army needs more mental health professionals after nearly 13 years at war.
The military has made strides embedding mental health professionals into Army combat infantry units, though, said Kathy Platoni, a retired Army colonel and a Centerville psychologist.
“We need many more mental health professionals who are seasoned and aren’t afraid to put their own lives on the line to care for their fellow soldiers,” she said.
Some military health practitioners have been replaced by civilian psychologists, who may have a harder time gaining the trust of soldiers because they have not served in the armed services, she added.
Platoni, 62, recalled her career and honored dozens of others who served with her in a recent retirement ceremony in Beavercreek. She was presented the Legion of Merit.
The retired colonel served in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Cuba since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and counted 34 years in uniform between active and reserve duty.
Her deployments took her to the front lines with combat soldiers in Iraq.
“Once you become one of the guys, so to speak the level of trust and confidence” rises, she said. “That (I) could be there with them at the worst moments of their life has been a gift.”
But perhaps the biggest danger she faced happened on a military base in the United States.
On Nov. 5, 2009, Platoni was one of dozens soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas preparing to deploy to Afghanistan when a gunman opened fire, killing 13 service members and wounding 32 others.
“That will stand out forever and ever,” she said. “That will always stand over my head. … watching my fellow soldiers die and being unable to save them. It’s such a feeling of absolute powerlessness and just the shock of one of our own taking so many lives for his personal jihad.”
A military jury sentenced Army psychologist Maj. Nidal Hasan, the gunman, to death in court proceedings at Fort Hood last August. Platoni attended the military trial, and supported survivors and soldiers’ family members, she said.
The military should recognize the massacre as a terrorist attack, award Purple Hearts to those killed and injured, and provide benefits to affected families, she said.
Her unit had the option not to deploy after the tragedy. Platoni said the soldiers chose Afghanistan.
“It would have been harder to go home and not be with our fellow soldiers and not seek and provide help to one another and the soldiers we seek to treat,” she said. “I think there would have been a lot more in the way of mental health problems in our unit had we gone home.”