The Marine veteran of Afghanistan blamed for a killing rampage that left 12 dead in a California bar never sought help from the Department of Veterans Affairs for post-traumatic stress or any other mental condition, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said Friday.
However, he said the shootings late Wednesday in Thousand Oaks, California, at the Borderline Bar & Grill suggest the department needs to do more outreach to troubled veterans.
"The veteran in question was not in the VA system, so we don't know what his status was, what his mental condition was," Wilkie said following an address at the National Press Club on his first 100 days in office.
He was responding to a question on President Donald Trump's remarks earlier Friday calling Ian David Long, a 28-year-old former Marine corporal, a "very sick puppy" who was probably suffering from PTSD after deployment to a combat zone.
Wilkie said he had no information on Long's condition, but noted he is working with the Pentagon to "try to catch the signs" of mental health problems "before a veteran leaves the service."
He cited VA figures showing that about 20 veterans take their own lives daily, and 14 of those never asked the VA for help. "We have to get those people into our system," Wilkie said. "I need help in finding our veterans who are not in our system" and may be suffering from PTSD or traumatic brain injury.
Earlier, Trump said on the White House lawn before departing for Paris to attend World War I centennial events that Long was "a very sick puppy. He's a very, very sick guy."
"Not too many people knew about it but, now that they're looking, they're starting to see he had a lot of problems, a lot of trouble," Trump said of Long, who apparently killed himself after opening fire on bar patrons with a handgun.
California authorities have yet to establish a motive for the shootings or say that Long had a mental condition, but Trump indicated that he might have been a veteran who came home troubled after a deployment.
"Look, it is a problem. It is a disastrous problem," he said, according to videos posted by several news outlets. "It makes you sick to look at it. But he was a very, very mentally ill person."
Trump said that post-traumatic stress may have been a factor in the shootings.
"Well, he was a war veteran. He was a Marine. He served time; he saw some pretty bad things," he said. "And a lot of people say he had the PTSD, and that's a tough deal."
Trump did not cite sources for his claims about Long's mental health.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.