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After Airport Shooting, Carter Says PTSD Plagues Many Vets

This file booking photo provided by the Broward Sheriff's Office shows suspect Esteban Santiago in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (Broward Sheriff's Office via AP)
This file booking photo provided by the Broward Sheriff's Office shows suspect Esteban Santiago in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (Broward Sheriff's Office via AP)

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter withheld comment Sunday on the Iraq war veteran charged with the Fort Lauderdale shootings while stating that post traumatic stress was a major and ongoing problem for the military.

"The mental wounds are very real" for many returning troops in the 15 years of war since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., Carter said on NBC's "Meet The Press" program.

"I can't say" what may have motivated the Fort Lauderdale shooter or comment on his mental stability, the secretary said, but "the so-called invisible wounds" of combat were conditions "we do take seriously and have to take seriously.

"It matters a great deal to me that we take care of wounded warriors," Carter added. "We keep learning more about how to deal with this kind of illness, we're going to do more and we need to do more as we learn more, absolutely. We owe it to these people."

Members of the family of 26-year-old Esteban Santiago, an Army National Guard veteran of Iraq, have told the Associated Press that Santiago returned from Iraq a different person and was deeply distraught over witnessing the deaths of two friends from an improvised explosive device.

It was unclear Sunday whether Santiago had been given or requested legal representation, or whether mental competence might be used as a defense to federal charges that could bring the death penalty.

Santiago was the sole suspect in the shootings Friday in the baggage claim area of the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida that killed five and injured at least six.

Santiago served with the Puerto Rico Army National Guard in Iraq from April 2010 to February 2011 as a combat engineer and was involved in route clearance, according to the Defense Department and the Army.

His dates of service were from December 2007 to August 2016. He was a recipient of the Combat Action Badge, a Pentagon spokesman said. Santiago left the Puerto Rico National Guard in 2013 and later re-entered service with the Alaska National Guard, the spokesman said.

Last August, Santiago received a general discharge under honorable conditions for "continuous and willful absence" from his duties with the Alaska National Guard, the spokesman said. His rank was reduced from Specialist to Private First Class upon discharge.

In addition to the CAB, Santiago's awards included the Army Commendation Medal; Army Good Conduct Medal; National Defense Service Medal; Iraq Campaign Medal with campaign star; Global War on Terrorism Service Medal; Armed Forces Reserve Medal w/ "M" Device; Army Service Ribbon; Overseas Service Ribbon; and Driver and Mechanic Badge - Wheeled Vehicle, the Army said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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