Army psychiatrist Patrick Lillard still anguishes over that night four years ago, when a drunken soldier shot to death a sheriff’s deputy along a shoulder of an expressway outside this base and then turned the assault rifle on himself.
Now Lillard has made an extraordinary decision to speak out about the case: If only the Army had listened to him, Spc. Christopher Hodges would have been in a hospital for alcohol addiction and two lives could have been saved.
Twice before the shootings, Lillard urged that Hodges, 26, an Iraq War veteran, receive at least a month of intensive treatment. Twice his recommendations were ignored by an Army substance abuse program that allows officers without a medical background to overrule a doctor.
“Two people died, and it could have been prevented,” Lillard told USA TODAY. He called on the military to “step up — ‘man up,’ as they say in the Army — and admit this was a tragic mistake, or error, or whatever word they want to use. Take responsibility. Explain in plain language to the family of Christopher Hodges and the police officer and make sure it does not happen again.”
USA TODAY reported in March that the Army’s substance abuse program is in disarray, with thousands of soldiers turned away from needed treatment, dozens of suicides linked to poor care and too few qualified counselors. The Army responded to the story by ordering an ongoing investigation of all 54 substance abuse outpatient clinics.
Lillard, 74, said he chose to speak out about the Hodges case after USA TODAY’s report in hopes that other lives won’t be lost because soldiers are denied substance abuse treatment.
Hodges’ parents and widow agreed to waive privacy protections to allow the story to be told for the first time.
Lillard resigned from the Army, effective Friday, at least in part over disagreements with the way patient care is handled.
In a statement, the Army said officials did everything they could to support Hodges “through an outpatient program that included … abstinence from alcohol, mandatory urinalysis and breathalyzer testing, compliance with appointments and intervention such as attending weekly group counseling sessions (and) individual therapy sessions.” The soldier also was sent to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and alcohol-abuse prevention training.
The Army emphasized that Hodges did not want hospitalization if it interfered with this training. However, soldiers can be compelled to undergo Army-supported treatment under penalty of separation from the service, Lillard said.
Disclaimer: This article was not written by Lorra B.