(Photo:Flickr/The U.S. Army)

As Army and government officials grapple with the fallout of a shooting rampage by an Army staff sergeant Sunday that left 16 Afghan villagers dead, nine of them children, legislators are asking the Pentagon why the soldier’s mental health wasn’t called into question.

As Reuters reports, despite being treated for a traumatic brain injury (TBI) after being deployed to Iraq in 2010, the soldier accused of the shootings was sent back to combat in Afghanistan, his fourth time being deployed overseas.

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), who founded a congressional task force on brain injuries, wants to know how seriously the military is handling the mental health of troops. According to Reuters, the congressman wrote to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta asking for the details of the accused (and currently unnamed) soldier’s injury and diagnosis, as well as when and how he was returned to combat duty.

“I am trying to find out basically whether there was a premature ‘OK’ on this guy,” Pascrell said in a telephone interview with Reuters. “This is not to excuse any heinous acts; we are all sickened by it. But dammit, we all have an obligation to prevent these things. If this soldier fell through the cracks, does that mean that others have?”

A TBI is one of the most common injuries from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Approximately 15 percent of troops deployed in Iraq reported suffering a head injury consistent with a TBI, say experts. According to the RAND study, which was based on interviews with nearly 200,000 service members, among soldiers reporting a probable TBI, a physician had not evaluated 57 percent of them.

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Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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