You're Viewing the Archives
Return to IVN's Frontpage

Neighbors Describe El Paso VA Shooter As A Veteran the System Failed

by Wendy Innes, published
Earlier this week, a gunman entered an El Paso area VA clinic and shot a psychologist before turning the gun on himself. In the wake of the shooting, both the VA and the FBI (who is leading the investigation), have been mum on details as the investigation is ongoing. However, information recently released paints a picture of a disturbed veteran with a grudge against the doctor he shot.

The shooter, identified as 48-year-old Army veteran Jerry Serrato, entered the El Paso Veterans Affairs Health Care System at Fort Bliss just before 4 p.m. MT on January 6 and shot 63-year-old Dr. Timothy Fjordbak, fatally wounding the man before turning the .380 pistol on himself.

The head of the FBI's El Paso field office, Douglas Lindquist, says Serrato had previously threatened the doctor at an area supermarket in 2013. According to a report made by the doctor, Serrato told Fjordbak, "I know what you did and I will take care of it."

Serrato had a grievance with the doctor because he believed the doctor was responsible for him losing his job at the VA.

Serrato was formerly a desk clerk at the VA where the shooting occurred, but he did not work with Fjordbak. There is also no record of Serrato being a patient of Fjordbak's. By all accounts, the supermarket was the only place where the two previously crossed paths.

Neighbors of the gunman say that the man did suffer from PTSD, and he would walk around the neighborhood with his gun at night when he had trouble sleeping, though they are also quick to describe him as a nice guy who kept to himself.

"He was a good neighbor, without a doubt," Mario Montes told a Fox affiliate in El Paso, "Jerry was always very cordial with us." But Montes went on to say that Serrato harbored major anger problems with the doctor over losing his job.

Serrato was a veteran who served 5 months in Iraq in 2007.

Montes said that while people look at events like this and think the gunman is some kind of monster, in reality Serrato was just deeply troubled and in need of help, a product of the war he fought in, and more attention needs to be paid to people like him.

There is no doubt that PTSD and suicide is a serious problem for veterans, especially those who served in the most recent conflicts. According to the VA, approximately 22 veterans per day take their own lives, and many of those veterans suffered from mental health or substance abuse issues at the time of their suicides.

While events such as the shooting at Fort Bliss paint veterans with PTSD as homicidal and dangerous, the truth is that veterans suffering from PTSD are more likely to be suicidal than homicidal. If a shooting is reported at a VA clinic, it is more likely to be a case of suicide meant to send a message to the establishment.

More than 80 percent of veterans with PTSD believe that the treatment they receive from the VA is not adequate and needs to go further.

In the days after the shooting, veterans and VA employees alike took to social media to criticize the El Paso facility's leadership and the VA at large.

At the announcement that counselors would be available for VA employees on January 8, several vets voiced their displeasure, saying that perhaps this tragic event wouldn't have happened if more counselors had been available for troubled vets before rather than after people died.

"How is it that "patient centered care" is the main focus after this incident? This should have been the main focus since day one," Dina Zdici said.

In the wake of the shooting, Fort Bliss has said that it will once again review its security procedures. Just four months ago, security measures were tightened following the revelation that the base failed to meet DoD directives regarding security and base access.

VA Director Robert McDonald visited the facility on Thursday and said that it would re-open on Friday afternoon, and that increased security screenings would be in place, such as bag and vehicle checks.

Fort Bliss Commanding Officer Maj. Gen. Stephen Twitty declined to comment on what, if any, security changes would be implemented in the near future.

Photo Source: KTSM News El Paso

About the Author