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Ex-U.S. Navy SEAL's killing puts focus on war's psychological toll

Eddie Ray Routh is pictured in this booking photo provided by the Erath County Sheriff’s Office. Routh is a suspect in the shooting and kill
Eddie Ray Routh is pictured in this booking photo provided by the Erath County Sheriff’s Office. Routh is a suspect in the shooting and kill

By Jim Forsyth

(Reuters) - The slayings of former U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle and another man trying to help a troubled U.S. military veteran, now charged with killing them at a Texas gun range, has renewed focus on the psychological wounds of war.

Eddie Lee Routh, 25, of Lancaster, Texas, an active duty Marine from 2006 to 2010 who served in the Iraq war, faces murder charges that could lead to the death penalty in Saturday's shootings at a gun range 50 milessouthwest of Fort Worth.

Routh, a military reservist, is charged with one count of capital murder and two counts of murder in the shooting deaths of Kyle, 38, and Kyle's friend, Chad Littlefield, 35. The pair were shot at close range at the Rough Creek Ranch gun range, which was designed by Kyle, a distinguished military sniper

Routh is being held on a $3 million bond at a county jail, and Dallas television station KXAS reported that he was tasered by jail guards on Sunday night after becoming aggressive and had been placed on suicide watch.

Jason Upshaw, a captain in the Erath County Sheriff's Office, said on Sunday Routh's mother had reached out to Kyle to try to help her son, who Marine Corps records show served one tour of duty in Iraq.

Officials said Routh's mother may have contacted Kyle, author of the book "American Sniper," because he co-founded the FITCO Cares Foundation that tries to help veterans recovering from physical and emotional injuries.

Twice in recent months, Routh was taken to a mental hospital after behaving erratically, according to police reports from Dallas and his hometown of Lancaster.

The Lancaster police report said Routh's mother called police in September because he had been drinking and became upset and threatening when his father told the veteran he was going to sell his gun.

Police found Routh wandering and crying nearby, without a shirt or shoes, and he told an officer he was a Marine veteran who suffered from post-traumatic stress, the Lancaster police report said.

Authorities were still trying to determine what led to Saturday's shooting, which took place at close range.

"I don't know that we will ever know," Erath County Sheriff Tommy Bryant told a news conference on Sunday.

POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS

Law enforcement officers have not said Routh specifically suffers from post traumatic stress, a severe anxiety disorder caused by witnessing or participating in traumatic events, but the killings renewed the focus on PTSD among veterans.

The Department of Veterans Affairs estimated in a report released last fall that about 30 percent of returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans suffered from some form of post-traumatic stress.

The shooting would not be typical of a veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress alone, said Dr. Harry Croft, a San Antonio psychiatrist who specializes in treating veterans for post-traumatic stress.

"Although this is very sensational and very tragic, it is at the same time, very rare," Croft said, adding that he was concerned it might stigmatize returning veterans.

Julie Wynn, a counselor who has worked with returning veterans as well as survivors of the 2009 shooting incident at Fort Hood, said the stress of war affects everyone differently.

"Some people come home and they never have a problem, they put it behind them, they lead normal lives," she said. "Other people, with stressors like family, jobs, the economy, they don't do well with moving on."

The U.S. military acknowledged in January that suicides had hit a record last year, outpacing combat deaths, with 349 active-duty suicides.

In response, Army Secretary John McHugh on Monday told a news conference at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state that he has ordered Army officials to lay out detailed plans by February 15 to boost soldiers' "physical, emotional and psychological resilience.

"Interventions are not coming as soon as I would like to see them," McHugh told reporters.

Kyle at the time of his death was doing his own part to aid returning members of the military.

He had been volunteering to help Marine Corps veterans suffering from PTSD, sometimes taking them to the shooting range, according to a posting on a website run by members of the Special Operations Forces.

Kyle had called ahead to let staff know the group would be there on Saturday, and the three men rode together to the range in Kyle's pickup truck, officials said.

After the shooting, Routh drove to his sister's house in Kyle's truck and told her what happened, authorities said. She called police after he headed home, where he was arrested a short time later.

Kyle, who served four combat tours of duty in Iraq, won two Silver Stars and five Bronze Stars for bravery, according to his book, which covers his military service from 1999 to 2009.

(Additional reporting by Marice Richter in Dallas, Laura L. Myers in Tacoma, Washington, and Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by David Bailey, Barbara Goldberg, Todd Eastham and Xavier Briand)

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