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Black Families Becoming More Aware of Autism

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – As Camille Proctor watched her one year-old son, she knew something wasn’t right. He played with others and enjoyed affection, but he never spoke. He also walked on his toes. His pediatrician assured Proctor that was son was probably just developmentally delayed.

At 15 months old, she learned that wasn’t the case – he was officially diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges.

“My son didn’t have the telltale signs, but I figured it out without the diagnosis. I had to basically force a diagnosis for my son so he could get the services he needed,” Proctor says. “But it was hard because now I had a name for what his problem was, but that wasn’t helpful for me going through it every day.”

Autism diagnosis rates are skyrocketing. In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that 1 in 88 children had a disorder on the spectrum. By last month, that number had jumped 30 percent to 1 in 68 children.

Although autism rates are highest among Whites, particularly males, studies show that African American children are usually diagnosed much later than their White counterparts.

Because little is understood about autism, information and resources are hard to come by, especially for families of color. Because of that, in 2009, Proctor launched The Color of Autism, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advocacy, awareness and knowledge among Black parents, connecting families to local services, and providing one-to-one support.

“I have exhausted my 401(k) and my son’s father did too, because nobody told us all we needed to do was fill out this 100-page document, get it approved, and he could get all these services for free,” Proctor stated. “I only found out because another parent at my son’s swim class asked if I was going to put him in hippotherapy [therapeutic horseback riding targeted for autism], but I said I couldn’t afford it. And she told me Medicaid would pay for it.”

Part of the dearth of information aimed at Black families is because concerted, grounded research did not begin until the 1980s (before then, ASD therapy consisted of electroshock therapy, institutionalization, and drugs). Few researchers have chosen to examine how the spectrum manifests in people of color.

A research team at the UCLA Center for Autism Research and Treatment is working to change that. Dr. Daniel Geschwind and his team have been identifying and studying the genetic causes of autism, how those genetic anomalies manifest in ASD symptoms, and how treatments can be designed around this information. Last year, Geschwind was awarded a $10 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to expand his research to study African American genes.

“After 10 or 12 years of doing this…I started to realize that from a public health standpoint, it’s time to apply the success [of previous research] to other groups. We lead the field in finding these genes, and I think the next step is the inclusion of underrepresented minority groups in genetic studies—I feel very strongly about that,” Geschwind says. “It’s incredibly important because now, when a person with European genes comes into the [Autism Center] clinic, there’s a 1 in 10 or 1 in 5 chance we can get a diagnosis for them. We assume that would be almost essentially the same for someone with African ancestry, but we actually don’t know.”

Geschwind explains that in genetic testing, it is important to retain the data’s power—a measure of its validity. That power is undermined by a diverse sample of DNA—if dissimilar DNA samples are compared, it’s hard to tell whether an effect is because of autism, or attributable to the genetic differences. Since DNA from White Americans is most ubiquitous and easiest to recruit, researchers tend to only study this population.

And since Black Americans have a calamitous history with medical research, it’s even harder to find willing participants. Without willing participants, there is little to no data tailored specifically to African Americans.

One aspect of raising a child with autism that rings acutely for parents of Black children, particularly boys, is the risk of wandering.

Last October, 14 year-old Avonte Oquendo wandered out of his school in Queens, N.Y. unbeknownst to his teachers and staff for nearly 15 minutes. After a three-month citywide search, his remains were found along the East River.

“Very rarely does a case of wandering from school end like [Oquendo’s] but this shows it can,” says Lori McIlwain, co-founder and executive director of the National Autism Association, and founder of the Autism Wandering Awareness Alerts Response and Education Collaboration. “Wandering happens from every setting, and people need to be aware, schools and teachers need training. We need to all work together on this.”

From Oquendo’s death came a push for “Avonte’s Law,” and other wandering legislation. Avonte’s Law introduced by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY.), centers on providing voluntary tracking devices to parents of autistic children who wander or bolt. According to AWAARE, tracking devices are a small start.

“A multilayered approach is what [AWAARE] recommends. Tracking is just one component of that,” McIlwain explains. “We hope that with any kind of change to laws, that wandering prevention will be added. We’ve given our suggestions to Senator Schumer’s office, and we also approached the Department of Education with a list of requests to address this on the school side, because of 30 percent of parents report wandering from schools.”

McIlwain has a son on the spectrum who is prone to wander and bolt. In the worst incident, he left a playground and made his way toward a highway, where a Good Samaritan found him. Because her son is nonverbal, it took some time to find out where he belonged.

Proctor’s son wanders as well, especially when he was a toddler. The family dog would follow him, knock him over, and subdue him until an adult came to the rescue.

“I think this legislation needs to be pushed,” she says. “There’s no reason Avonte should be able to walk out of his school in New York City and Al Sharpton is not all over that. I don’t see anybody out marching for [Avonte]. I’m glad the legislation is being done by a White legislator, and I’m okay with everybody advocating for our kids, but I want to see us advocate for our kids so everyone knows that they are valuable.”

Proctor’s organization, The Color of Autism, offers resources for parents starting from the first 100 days after a diagnosis. She is also trying to fund a film, Screaming in Silence, a documentary about the affects of autism in African American families.

“I always ask Black parents concerned about the autism label, ‘Would you rather the label 1234567?’ And they say, ‘What’s that?’ I say, ‘It’s an inmate number.’ Because that’s what’s going to happen to your child when he begins to act out, without a diagnosis or a mental chart somewhere. Nobody cares about a Black child after puberty,” Proctor says. “Autism is not a death sentence. We need to team up and support our own community.”

When Cops Hide Behind Badge to Kill Blacks

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – In 1965, Tuskegee Institute in Alabama was a hotbed for social protest and bred students passionate about equality, justice and civil rights. Seventeen year-old, Ruby Sales, born in Jemison, Ala., was one of those students.

“Once you got the religion of civil rights and you were really in the movement, it was hard to turn around, because there was something about it that wouldn’t let you loose,” said Sales.

She joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and when youngsters from Lowndes County, Ala., called on the group to help organize demonstration for back payment for sharecroppers and a voting drive, Sales, a sophomore, knew that she had to go.

A mob of White men wielding baseball bats, trash can lids and rakes greeted the peaceful protesters. The cops arrested Sales and her group, holding them for a week feeding them “slop.” Sales said some were tortured. They were afraid to drink the water.

When the group of a little more than 20 demonstrators were released a week later with little fanfare they were relieved and suspicious. The dusty and hot streets of the town were deserted.

Four of the young activists Ruby Sales; Jonathan Daniels, an Episcopalian seminarian; Father Richard Morrisroe, a Roman Catholic priest and Joyce Bailey, a local teen, left the group and walked across the street to buy sodas at the grocery store they had frequented just a week earlier. Sales and Bailey were Black. Daniels and Morrisroe were White.

Sales led the group. Friends would say that she was always in the front.

As she walked up the short set of cement cinder block steps to enter the store, waiting for them in the doorway was Thomas Coleman, a White volunteer special deputy sheriff armed with a pistol and a 12-guage shotgun.

“When I got to the door, he said, ‘Bitch, I’ll blow your brains out!’” remembered Sales. According to the student, Coleman leveled the shotgun on her and everything seemed to move in slow motion. Daniels pulled Sales down the concrete steps. Coleman squeezed the trigger. Sales fell sideways off the steps as the shotgun blast nearly tore Daniels in half.

“I thought I was dead,” said Sales. “I thought, ‘This is what dead must feel like.’”

But Sales wasn’t dead. Coleman fired another round, hitting Father Morrisroe in the back as he fled with Bailey. Sales crawled out and hid behind a car near the grocery store.

Then, Sales said, the volunteer sheriff called the police. Later, Coleman was charged with manslaughter in the death of Jonathan Daniels and claimed self-defense. A jury of his peers found him not guilty in two hours. He never served a day in jail for the incident.

Though traumatized by the experience, the young Sales continued to work with SNCC. It a period of rank optimism, when many young people, Black and White, were determined to remove the walls of segregation and, in the process, change America for the better.

“It’s not that people were suicidal but they were making a statement that they wouldn’t let the fear of death turn them around, they were moved by the spirit toward freedom,” Sales said.

She continued her work in civil rights and after graduating from Episcopal Divinity School in 2001 founded The SpiritHouse Project, a non-profit research, education and action organization that works for racial, economic, and social justice.

There, she was able to rekindle her work as an activist by tracking what is formally called extra judicial killings of Blacks – the deliberate murder of Blacks outside of the judicial system, often by law enforcement officials.

“It’s a crisis for African American people because we are not safe in this country. We are profiled for hate crimes by people who are paid and empowered to protect us,” explained Sales. “We are not safe, our children are not safe and we are targeted for these murders through tasings, hangings, shootings and beatings.”

Sales continued: “It’s a crisis, because it’s not just a Black problem, it’s an American problem.”

It’s a crisis that dates back to the 1890s and the early 1900s, said Sales, when lynching became a virulent reality in this country.

According to archival records from the Tuskegee Institute, now Tuskegee University, 1,778 Blacks were lynched from 1890 to 1910, compared to 526 Whites lynched over the same time period. In 1892 at the peak use of the terror tactic, 161 Blacks were lynched and 69 Whites were lynched, the highest year for lynchings on record.

Close to 3,500 Blacks and 1,300 Whites were lynched from 1882-1968.

Sales understood that type of violence against Black people on very deep intellectual and spiritual levels. So, her antennae were already up when she homed in on the suspicious death of Billey Joe Johnson in Benndale, Miss. in 2009 and went down to Lucedale, Miss., a neighboring town, to investigate.

On an early December morning in 2008, police pulled Billey Joe Johnson, 17, over for speeding, one of the indulgences of a star high school running back with college skills and NFL dreams.

Later, the George County Sheriff’s Department would say that he tried to break into the home of a sometimes girlfriend in Lucedale, Miss., and that he ran a red light leaving her house. The girlfriend was White. Billey Joe was Black.

The sheriff’s deputy who pulled the teen over said that after Billy Joe gave him his license, the teen went back to his truck an retrieved a 12-guage shotgun that he used for hunting and shot himself in the face. Sales found the report unbelievable and said that the case showed the hallmark characteristics of a modern day form of lynching.

“Immediately, that historical collective memory kicked in,” said Sales. The suspicious death, the quick and incredulous suicide angle pushed by law enforcement, and the White woman, were all tell-tale warning signs, according to Sales.

Lynchings were often seen as the final solution used to intimidate and disenfranchise Blacks, especially Black men who were portrayed as a clear and present danger to the sanctity of White women, Sales said.

Sales began to link that case and more than a dozen other cases, some covered in the media, others just covered up.

“I said, ‘Oh my god, we’ve got a crisis here, Black folks are right back where we were after Reconstruction,” recalled Sales.

Sales said that the nation is being torn apart by these acts of White supremacy and the acts pose a clear and present danger to America’s image in the world and our ability to forthrightly deal with foreign policy.

She asked, “How do you talk about countries who don’t have democracy when the very heart of democracy is being shredded at home?”

In April 2013, The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, a human rights group focused on self-determination in the Black community, released a report detailing the extrajudicial killings of Black people in the United States. The group compiled the data from Internet searches, public documents, police reports and eyewitness accounts.

According to the report there were 313 such killings in 2012, nearly one every 28 hours and almost twice the number of murders when compared to the number of lynchings at their peak in 1892.

According to the report in almost half of the killings, police officers, security guards and vigilantes said they “felt threatened,” “feared for their life,” or “were forced to shoot to protect themselves or others”

Thirteen percent of the killings involved suspects firing a weapon “either before or during the officer’s arrival.”

“The extrajudicial murders are tools of social control to re-establish White supremacy and to control African Americans and other people,” said Sales. “Violence has always been a means of doing that. The same ideological perspective that gave rise to lynching is in place today.”

Nothing has changed, added Sales.

“We have to begin to offer that critique in our community to ask why are our hearts are so hardened in the face of these deaths,” said Sales. “Why do we believe in the criminalization of African American people, especially African American men? Why do we believe that black boys and black men are urban animals? Why do we believe that? These are our children. These are our relatives and yet we seem numb.”

Sales draws a direct line from the lynchings that took place from 1882-1968, to the violence that Blacks and Whites endured during the Civil Rights Movement to the shooting deaths of Amadou Diallo by New York City police officers, Oscar Grant III by Bay Area Rapid Transit police officers in Oakland, Calif., Jack Lamar Robinson by police in Waycross, Ga., and the suspicious deaths of Billey Joe Johnson in Benndale, Miss., Chavis Carter in Jonesboro, Ark., and a number of other cases.

Sales plans to invite some of the family members affected by these killings who haven’t benefitted from the direct media spotlight to an event in Washington, D.C. on April 22 to help expand the narrative about the extrajudicial killings and to help people understand that this is not just about a few people being killed. This is a major organized, systemic issue.

“National leaders are not standing up and speaking for the families, the families are speaking for themselves,” said Sales. “They are the ones that have the credible voices and have the right to make their demands known.”

(To learn more about the event on extrajudicial killings that will be hosted by The SpiritHouse Project, visit SpiritHouseProject.org.)

College Students Launch Campaign to Raise Visibility

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By Jazelle Hunt
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – If anyone thought the election of Barack Obama, or the rise of the multi-racial Millennial generation, marked the beginning of a post-racial America, a campaign spreading across college campuses has news for you.

It began with I, Too Am Harvard, a theatrical performance by the Kuumba Singers of Harvard as part of their 16th Annual Black Arts Festival Weekend. The production was centered on 40 unedited interviews of Harvard University students about the challenges of being Black at Harvard. As promotion for the production, the group released its “I, Too, Am Harvard” photo series, featuring Black Harvard students holding dry-erase boards inscribed with racial microaggressions they had experienced during their matriculation:

“Don’t you wish you were white like the rest of us?”

“You’re lucky to be black…so easy to get into college!”

“You don’t sound black…you sound smart!”

“As Black students at institutions of higher learning, our presence is often doubted, questioned, feared, or ignored by our university communities,” explained the show’s producer, Tsega Tamene. “We hope to begin active conversation around this issue.”

On March 3, Buzzfeed, a social news and entertainment site popular among the under-30 generation, ran an article on the photo campaign. The response was immediate and incredible. Over the following days, “I, Too Am,” a takeoff on Langston Hughes’ “I, Too, Sing America,” became a rallying cry for a new generation.

Students of color at other schools started their own “I, Too, Am” conversations on Twitter. It is continuing to pick up steam, spawning thousands of publicly accessible Tweets across 16 institutions, five countries, and three continents.

The movement’s goal is to foster campus awareness and conversation on these microaggressions, and to give students of color a sounding board for their grievances. Each school has tailored the campaign to fit their own needs.

For example, all of the subsequent schools have opened their campaign to all students of color, not just African Americans. A few less racially diverse schools are also highlighting gender, religious, and sexuality microaggressions.

Most student organizers are employing social media, photo blogs, campus demonstrations, forums, or some combination of them.

At Oregon State, for example – where 332 undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral Black students make up just 1.2 percent of the student body – the campaign began on Twitter and Facebook then spilled over into a campus solidarity march against racism. The march brought out hundreds of OSU students, faculty, and staff (including the university president and vice provost).

“When people say racism is over because we have a Black president, I just have to laugh to myself,” says Justin McDaniels, a senior political science major (with focus on international relations) and co-organizer of the I, Too, Am OSU campaign. McDaniels recalls a professor who felt “inconvenienced” by the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.

“My generation is definitely aware of [racism], and I wouldn’t say it’s any better or worse, the execution is just different,” says McDaniels. “There’s no more ‘No Blacks Allowed’ in your face. Now, no one wants to be called racist, but they also try to get away with saying racist things.”

At New York University, I, Too, Am NYU exists on social media, and as a photo project with more than 100 participants, both on the main campus and at satellite campuses abroad. The student organizers also hosted an open forum for students of color to brainstorm ideas on what the campaign should do next.

“There’s something growing on our campus – the desire of students of color to take this issue on. We’re always saying we need to stop preaching to the choir,” says María-Mónica Andia, senior social work and Latino studies double-major at New York University, and a co-organizer of I, Too, Am NYU. “We wanted to put in the face of the administration, to say, ‘Hey, did you know this was happening to us?’ And it’s not just the students – but the professors see it happening and they stay passive. I don’t know why, but this is an opportunity for our administration to reflect.”

At Notre Dame, the photo project skips the whiteboard and has students write their messages on their bodies to represent how the slights can’t be wiped away simply.

“My purpose wasn’t to condemn or attack Notre Dame – I have personally enjoyed my time here. Most of [the experiences] were not with professors, it was with our own classmates,” says Zuri Eshun, senior film, television, and theatre major and creator of the photo project. She recalled a class in which she had a front row to herself the entire semester, because none of her classmates (all White) would sit near her.

“I don’t know what I can do in the last month-and-a-half as a student at Notre Dame, but I know I can get these images into someone’s head so the people who’ve said these things know that the thing they did and didn’t think was a big deal, was remembered. Changing the mindset of race on campus is the overall goal, not just filtering what people say.”

The University of Oxford was the first international institution to adopt the campaign as a photo project; the University of Cambridge soon followed suit. Someone in Finland extended the campaign to his/her entire country, which is home to many people of color, and immigrants who have earned citizenship there. And more recently, the University of Sheffield (England), the University of Cape Town (South Africa), and Rientjes Mavo (a high school in the Netherlands), have also launched “I, Too, Am” Twitter discussions and accompanying photos.

And there is barely a difference in the experiences highlighted in these international campaigns: “How did you get in to Oxford? Jamaicans don’t study,” or, “You don’t sound like them,” or, “So when are you going back home?”

Not everyone has embraced these campaigns.

A week after the launch of I, Too, Am Oxford, a challenger appeared in the form of We Are All Oxford, described as a multi-racial group of students concerned about future enrollment of students of color. Instead of racial microaggressions, their dry-erase boards bear either university facts regarding inclusion and minority representation, or positive opinions and experiences with multiculturalism.

“We would like to emphasize that we do not aim to undermine the original campaign and we are not working against them. We acknowledge that racism exists at the University of Oxford and it needs to be challenged,” the photo blog’s description reads, “but we believe that the university is working hard to tackle these prejudices and misguided perceptions. Our aim is to present the full picture.”

With the I, Too, Am NYU campaign, a skirmish broke out on Facebook after one student anonymously (and erroneously) expressed frustration that the campaign only featured Black and brown participants, stating, “Frankly, its tiring to see black and brown people have their issues magnified every time race is the topic of conversation…. Every ‘race’ (I use that term reluctantly. we’re all [expletive] human) faces their own unique injustices.”

McDaniels and Andia both report offhand remarks either questioning the necessity and validity of such a campaign, or criticizing the campaign for being “divisive.”

On Eshun’s I, Too, Am Notre Dame blog, a self-identified “ethnic race child of immigrant parents” commenter named Alum left a note stating, “I’m sorry, but this movement, among all of the other ‘I too Am’ movements across college campuses, is extremely childish and immature…. [I] am inclined to believe that there is some severe over-exaggeration and hyperbole at play here. I don’t believe for a second that even the most brash of ND undergrads would ever say to another students’ face, ‘go back to where you came from.’ It’s 2014. And I’m not in denial.”

Still, the response at each school has been largely positive.

“I’ve been really surprised at how powerful social media can be as a tool for awareness. It’s an incredible tool to get people involved in a community effort,” McDaniels says. “Racism is still there, and will probably be there for a long time to come. It’s something we still need to work on as a country.”

'Central Park Five' rally at City Hall for 25th Anniversary of Injustice

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By Nayada Arinbe
Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

On April 19, 1989, Trisha Meili, 28, was beaten and raped while she jogged through Central Park. In the shadow of a frenzied mainstream media, five young Black and Latino youths were arrested, and they have always said they were manipulated by the NYPD into confessing. Attorney Michael Tarif Warren maintains that investigators always knew that no DNA evidence linked the five youngsters to the crime, yet they tried and convicted them in order to satisfy something like a press-whipped up bloodlust.

In 2002, while serving a life sentence for rape and murder, Matias Reyes confessed to the crime when he just happened to bump into Kharey Wise, a member of the accused group. His DNA was a match with the attack on Meili. Yet, despite evidence that exonerated them, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Police Commissioner Kelly and lead prosecutors in the case like Elizabeth Lederer, and Manhattan ADA Linda Fairstein, and cop Mike Sheehan still said that the five had to be involved.

“Mayor Bill de Blasio, we are still waiting for you to honor your word–spoken both during and after campaign–to settle the Central Park case, in an appropriate manner which is commiserate to the suffering of these young men who had their youth snatched from them,” attorney Michael Tarif Warren told the AmNews. “The Central Park settlement case is emblematic of his credibility. It has been four months since Mayor de Blasio has been in office, yet there still is no settlement.”

“As we approach the 25th anniversary of this gross injustice, we patiently wait for the wheels of justice–newly oiled with the coming of our Mayor Bill de Blasio–to turn again. Our hope is that a speedy response will be forthcoming and favorable,” said Yusef Salaam, one of the five young men wrongfully convicted in the notorious Central Park jogger case. “It has been said justice delayed is justice denied … this has been the case. There was a speedy process to convict us, there has yet to be a speedy process of complete restorative justice.”

The five teenagers that spent between 6-13 years in prison and are now grown men with families, are: Raymond Santana, Salaam, Antron McCray, Wise, and Kevin Richardson.

“We have been patient, we want to finally move on with our lives and put this ugly nightmare to bed,” Salaam told the AmNews. “One day in prison for a crime you didn’t commit is one day too long! For my comrades and I, we collectively spent 41 years in prison for crimes we didn’t commit. The time is now for justice to be swift and favorable. We and our families have suffered for far too long.”

In a December 2013 news conference where he announced former U.S. Attorney Zachary Carter as the city’s head of corporation counsel, then Mayor-elect de Blasio affirmed, “We will settle the Central Park Five case because a huge injustice was done.” He declared that he is “committed to making that settlement quickly.”

The words sounded so promising when they were spoken with such conviction and resolution. Yet, months later, crickets.

Tragedy at Fort Hood: Will violence increase as more war weary veterans return?

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By Charlene Muhammad
Special to the NNPA from The Final Call

(FinalCall.com) – The mental and emotional toll of combat from America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq on military service personnel is once again center stage after the latest shooting by an Army specialist on a U.S. military base. Army Specialist Ivan Lopez, 34, has been identified as the gunman in the April 2 shooting that left four dead and 16 wounded, including the shooter in Fort Hood, Texas.

Investigators are blaming unstable mental health as a fundamental cause of the shooting.

But Spc. Ivan Lopez’ actions have spun America into yet another national debate on gun violence when the dialogue belongs on quality mental health treatment in the military, argue activists.

Veterans’ advocates and activists say the incessant refusal by some politicians and corporate media to acknowledge the untreated mental illness soldiers experience during and after war combat feeds the violent fall-out caused by wars undergirded by America’s foreign policy.

An Army truck driver from Puerto Rico, Spc. Lopez was undergoing treatment for depression and anxiety while being evaluated for post-traumatic stress disorder, base officials said.

Mr. Lopez walked into a base building around 4 p.m., April 2 and began firing a .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol. He then got into a vehicle and continued shooting before entering another building on the Army post. He eventually was confronted by military police in a parking lot, Lt. Gen. Mark Milley, senior officer at the nation’s largest Army base, said.

As he came within 20 feet of a police officer, Mr. Lopez put his hands up but then reached under his jacket and pulled out his gun. The officer drew her own weapon, and the suspect put his gun to his head and pulled the trigger a final time, Lt. Gen. Milley said.

“When it happened, I thought this was again the ghosts of the Iraq War showing themselves and I look at this in terms of the beginning of more of the problems we’ll see emerging since the Iraq War ended,” said Michael Prysner, an Iraq War veteran with the ANSWER (Act Now to End War and Racism) Coalition. He advocates for better health treatment for veterans.

The shootings occurred just five years after then Army psychiatrist Major Nidal M. Hasan, killed 13 and wounded 39 more at Fort Hood in November 2009. Mr. Nidal was convicted and sentenced to death last year in August.

Mr. Prysner said military officials and politicians are erroneously stating that since Mr. Lopez wasn’t really in combat in Iraq and that it’s not clear he had Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which may have contributed to his actions.

But all of this comes on the heels of the Army’s own study that the crisis in mental health care stems from soldiers joining with those issues, he said.

“All of this is an attempt to try to shift the blame, but the reality is it doesn’t matter what the source of someone’s trauma is. When you sign up for the military, you’re putting yourself in care of the military and you have no one else to care for you,” Mr. Prysner told The Final Call.

“Those in the care of the military’s mental health system are in such a desperate and humiliating situation that it’s driving many to suicide. It drives many to madness, and I think that as the facts come out, we’ll see that Ivan Lopez is tied into this type of unit or going through this process that probably played a factor in his psychological break,” he continued.

While mainstream media and politicians deny it, the Lopez shooting definitely stems from PTSD, activists say.

In a statement released by the family of Mr. Lopez, who live in Puerto Rico, he is described as a “calm family man who always looked out for the well-being of his home and a good son.”

According to Ivan Lopez, Sr. his father, the younger Mr. Lopez was under medical treatment said the statement. The death of his mother, grandfather, transferring military bases “surely affected his existing condition because of his experiences as a soldier,” the statement continued.

According to the PTSD Foundation of America, about 30 percent of the men and women who have spent time in war zones experience PTSD and an additional 20 to 25 percent have had partial PTSD at some point in their lives.

Referred to as the “unseen wounds of war” by the foundation, PTSD occurs not just in military circumstances, but after life-threatening events including natural disasters, serious accidents, or physical or sexual assault, whether as adults or children.

Those with the psychiatric disorder often relive a past trauma and become upset, avoid people or places that remind them of that trauma or they feel guarded, irritable or are easily startled, say experts.

The PTSD Foundation of America organization states on its website that PTSD has been detected among veterans of other several wars. “Estimates of PTSD from the Gulf War are as high as 10%. Estimates from the war in Afghanistan are between 6 and 11%. Current estimates of PTSD in military personnel who served in Iraq range from 12% to 20%,” notes ptsdusa.org.

Obviously Spc. Lopez had some psychological issues and shouldn’t have been in the Army, but that speaks to the great negligence of the Army with soldiers who have mental health issues, Mr. Prysner argued.

He noted that Spc. Lopez was in the Warrior Transition Brigade Unit at Fort Hood, which is a unit that exists for physically or psychologically wounded soldiers that are disabled and facing discharge from the military. They’re to receive treatment and care in the unit while they’re being processed out of the military, he explained.

But life in the brigade during that transition is abysmal, stated Mr. Prysner, who said he’s visited several such brigades across the country.

“It takes years and years and years possibly for the process to go through and so all the soldiers who are waiting to get their lives back on track and to move on from what they’ve been through are stuck in this system that seems like it has no end in sight,” he said.

Mr. Prysner argued the shootings stem from a type of terrorism that can be blamed on military commanders and soldiers’ chain of command for creating the conditions that cause such atrocities.

“There have been many, many thousands of young men and women who have joined the military with the best of intentions and were chewed up and spit out as completely different people, and we’re seeing record numbers kill themselves and smaller isolated incidents of extreme violence,” Mr. Prysner added.

The ANSWER Coalition is calling on President Barack Obama to declare an emergency situation to expedite those awaiting processing and begin a complete overhaul of the mental health system.

“That’s what’s needed and as long as the government is refusing to do that they’re going to continue to have massacres like this and they’re going to continue to have 22 veterans a day killing themselves,” Mr. Prysner told The Final Call, referring to a 2012 study released by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

According to the “Suicide Data Report, 2012,” 22 veterans a day committed suicide in 2010. The report was drafted by Dr. Janet Kemp, a registered nurse, and Dr. Robert Bossarte also under the auspices of Mental Health Services, and Suicide Prevention Program.

Its statistics are based on a four-year study (2009-2012) of cases where military service was reported, but only includes information from the first 21 states that contributed data. That excludes California and Texas, which have larger veteran populations, the authors explained.

Advocates like the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America is pushing for The Suicide Prevention for America’s Act, introduced by Senator John Walsh, the first Iraq veteran in the Senate.

In part, the act would improve access to care for troops and veterans by extending combat eligibility, review wrongful discharges (of troops who struggle with mental health issues and discharged for unseen issues), and improve mental health care and suicide prevention programs by requiring an annual review of programs in the Department of Defense and Veterans Association.

Without drastic changes, Dr. Umar Abdullah Johnson believes the problem will worsen. “I am not surprised. This is becoming a trend now, of individuals who are affiliated with one branch of the Armed Services or another,” he stated.

He said the problem stems from three reasons. America has a shortage of recruits so it’s targeting anyone it can to enter the military and ignoring people’s mental illness or their pre-disposition to mental illness.

Others develop mental illness because of the military’s unnatural nature, its isolated and strict culture, and own governance and court process. And, individuals coming back from combat, whether they participated directly or were exposed, affects the human brain, which isn’t designed to cope with that type of trauma on a regular basis said the noted author and activist.

“The sad thing about it is there are going to be more of them. The government, Congress, even the Senate, rarely investigates the military because the military is the bottom line,” Dr. Johnson said.

“When your whole status as a world superpower, as an international oppressor rests on the shoulders of your military and the people who lead it, you’re not likely to question or hear issues of human rights in the military,” he continued.

The government’s solution is giving speeches about pulling the troops but funding is funneled to defense contractors and the military industrial complex, activists contend.

The Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined will be the most expensive wars in U.S. history, totaling between $4 to $6 trillion, according to Linda Bilmes, senior lecturer in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Those costs include long-term medical care and disability compensation for service members, veterans and families, military replenishment and social and economic costs.

“The largest portion of that bill is yet to be paid,” Ms. Bilmes wrote in “The Financial Legacy of Iraq and Afghanistan: How Wartime Spending Decisions Will Constrain Future National Security Budgets,” released March 2013.

According to her report, since 2001, the U.S. has expanded the quality, quantity, availability and eligibility of benefits for military personnel and veterans, and that’s led to unprecedented growth in the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense budgets. And those benefits will increase over the next 40 years, Ms. Bilmes indicated.

“Additional funds are committed to replacing large quantities of basic war equipment and to support ongoing diplomatic presence and military assistance in the Iraq and Afghanistan region, and the large sums borrowed to finance operations there will impose substantial long-term debt servicing costs,” Ms. Bilmes continued.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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