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Army rep. shares mental health treatment limitations with Lewiston shooting commission

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Army rep. shares mental health treatment limitations with Lewiston shooting commission

Jun 13, 2024 | 1:52 pm ET
By Emma Davis
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Army rep. shares mental health treatment limitations with Lewiston shooting commission
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(U.S. Army Reserve photo by Sgt. Reginald Harvey)

Col. Mark Ochoa of the U.S. Army Reserve Command described a largely patient-driven picture of mental health treatment for reservists during a meeting of the Independent Commission to Investigate the Facts of the Tragedy in Lewiston Thursday morning. 

Ochoa could not speak directly to the connection between the Army Reserve’s psychological health program and Robert Card II, who killed 18 people and injured 13 others during the mass shooting in Lewiston on October 25, after law enforcement and the Army were made aware of his deteriorating mental health. 

However, the commission members’ questioning of Ochoa about the Reserve’s program highlighted the complexities with ensuring reservists undergo treatment and continue those services.  

Meanwhile, commission chair Daniel Wathan, former chief justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, said the commission is working to obtain a fact witness who can speak directly to Card’s involvement with the program and his related interactions with his commander.

In an interim report released in March, the commission outlined the steps various agencies took, or failed to take, to try to have Card undergo mental health treatment after he began experiencing paranoid behavior and acting erratically. 

In July 2023, Card’s supervisor, Capt. Jeremey Reamer, ordered Card to have his mental health evaluated. Card was first treated at an Army hospital but then transferred to a civilian hospital, where he stayed until his discharge in early August. 

During a commission meeting in April, Reamer said he should have done more to ensure Card got follow-up care after being discharged. 

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On Thursday, Ochoa explained that the psychological health program cannot mandate treatment.

“What I’m understanding from your testimony here today, Colonel, is that PHP is a resource,” said commission member Paula Silsby, former U.S. attorney for the District of Maine. “It’s there for people who wish to avail themselves of that resource, but ultimately it comes to the reservist’s commander to manage the situation if you have an uncooperative reservist?”

In response, Ochoa explained, “We are there to help commanders the best that we can, either with recommendations, guidance, instruction, training. I don’t like to think that the commanders are out there on their own.” 

For example, the program builds profiles of reservists and communicates to commanders when they reach out to reservists to try to get them to seek care, though do not disclose full medical records. 

However, this information sharing and tracking is often more complex for reservists, like Card, who are often part-time compared with active duty personnel. 

For active duty personnel, Ochoa explained, “we have behavioral health providers at all levels, social workers, psychiatrists, psychologists, that are embedded with units for that so that people can go in and get their health care close to their place of duty.”

For reservists who may receive care from a civilian health care provider, Army knowledge is limited to what the reservist shares. 

Ochoa’s testimony also touched on potential barriers to reservists pursuing mental health treatment. Dr. Debra Baeder, former chief forensic psychologist for the state of Maine, asked whether reservists may have concerns with being referred to the program, particularly given the profile on them that is then developed. 

“Of course the answer is yes,” Ochoa said, however he went on to add that mental health “is a medical condition and should be treated as such… I have heard that people are concerned about progression in their military career but there are a lot of people who have overcome those challenges.”

The message Ochoa said he wanted to make clear is that “commanders have the tools to help their teammates.”