WASHINGTON — The gunman who killed 12 people in last year’s rampage at Washington’s Navy Yard lied so convincingly to Veterans Affairs doctors before the shootings that they concluded he had no mental health issues despite serious problems and encounters with police during the same period, according to a review of his confidential medical files conducted by the Associated Press.
Just weeks before the shootings, a doctor treating him for insomnia noted that the patient worked for the Defense Department and wrote hauntingly ‘‘no problem there.’’
The Associated Press obtained more than 100 pages of treatment and disability claims evaluation records for Aaron Alexis, spanning more than two years. They show that Alexis complaining of minor physical ailments, including foot and knee injuries, slight hearing loss, and later insomnia, but resolutely denying any mental health issues. He directly denied having suicidal or homicidal thoughts when government doctors asked him about it just three weeks before the shootings.
In an incident in Newport, R.I., Alexis told police on Aug. 7 that disembodied voices were harassing him at his hotel using a microwave machine to prevent him from sleeping. After police reported the incident to the Navy, his employer, a defense contracting company, pulled his access to classified material for two days after his mental health problems became evident but restored it quickly and never told Navy officials it had done so.
Just 16 days later, after Alexis told a VA emergency room doctor in Providence that he couldn’t sleep, the doctor wrote that his speech and thoughts seemed ‘‘clear and focused’’ and noted that he ‘‘denies flashbacks, denies recent stress.’’
The medical records said Alexis, 34, was found sleeping in the VA waiting room in Providence on Aug. 23 while waiting to see a doctor. During that visit he was prescribed 50 milligrams of trazodone, an antidepressant and antianxiety medication that in such low doses can be used to treat insomnia.
The medical records showed that Alexis answered ‘‘no’’ when asked, ‘‘Do you have anything that could be considered a weapon?’’ The VA told the Associated Press that was a standard question it asks veterans it treats in a triage setting.
Five days later Alexis visited a VA medical facility in Washington, again complaining of sleeplessness. He answered ‘‘no’’ when asked whether he was having feelings of hopelessness for the present and the future.
Another doctor that night described the examination as ‘‘unremarkable.’’ The VA gave him 10 more tablets of trazodone and sent him home just before 9 p.m.
Alexis, a defense contractor and former Navy reservist, went on a deadly shooting rampage at the Navy Yard on Sept. 16, spraying bullets in a hallway and firing on workers from a balcony. He died in a gun battle with police.
He had purchased the shotgun he used two days before the shooting from a gun shop in Virginia. Alexis had been involved in at least two earlier shooting-related incidents, in 2004 and 2010.