By Helen Kennedy
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
A shell-shocked U.S. soldier shot and killed five comrades at a military stress clinic in Baghdad Monday, shining a new light on the growing psychological toll of war.
The troubled soldier was in custody, officials said.
There were conflicting reports about whether anyone else was wounded. One military spokesman said no one else was hurt; another said three soldiers were wounded.
It was unclear if the dead were staff at the clinic or traumatized troops seeking counseling there.
"Such a tragic loss of life, at the hands of our own forces, is a cause for great and urgent concern," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said.
"It will get this department's highest-priority attention."
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said the tragedy suggests the military needs to "redouble our efforts in terms of dealing with the stress" and ease multiple deployments.
One in five soldiers return from Iraq or Afghanistan with psychological problems ranging from insomnia to suicide attempts.
White House spokesman said President Obama was shocked and saddened by the rampage and would meet with Gates this afternoon to discuss the matter.
"Any time we lose one of our own, it affects us all," said Army Col. John Robinson, a military spokesman in Iraq.
"Our hearts go out to the families and friends of all the service members involved in this terrible tragedy."
The slaughter took place at 2 p.m. Iraq time at high-security Camp Liberty near the Baghdad International Airport, the Pentagon said.
It's one of the world's largest military bases and home to some 50,000 troops.
The Combat Stress Control Center, built of exposed pine and designed as a cozy retreat from the trauma of war, has 48 beds and a staff of 45 and is always busy.
It is run by Maj. Kevin Gormley, commander of the 98th Combat Stress Control unit.
The names of the dead were withheld pending family notifications.
This was not the first time a U.S. soldier in Iraq has snapped and fired on his colleagues.
Last Sept. 14, Sgt. Joseph Bozicevich killed two of his superiors at a base south of Baghdad. He claimed they constantly berated him and he couldn't take it anymore.
A RAND Corp. report found that 20% of the soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan - about 300,000 troops - suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or depression.
PSTD is caused by combat trauma such as being wounded or witnessing others being hurt can cause PTSD. Symptoms include outbursts of anger, sleep difficulties, trouble concentrating and an exaggerated startle response.
Several studies have warned that there aren't enough shrinks and therapists to properly care for the flood of soldiers returning from combat with mental problems.
In the first six months of last year, 21 troops committed suicide in Iraq and another 39 killed themselves after returning home, the Pentagon reported.
The military is working hard to remove the stigma that soldiers may feel about seeking help - and more are now talking to counselors.
Every new soldier arriving in Iraq is handed a card detailing the warning signs for depression and suicide.
Monday's attack was the deadliest strike on U.S. troops since April 10, when an Iraqi suicide bomber blew up his truck in the city of Mosul, killing five American soldiers.