Feature

Friends and colleagues of Army Maj. L. Eduardo Caraveo, PhD, remember him as a dedicated psychologist who lived life with gusto, humor and determination.

Caraveo, 52, was one of the 13 people shot and killed during the Nov. 5 rampage at the Soldier Readiness Processing Center at Fort Hood, Texas. The alleged shooter is Maj. Nadil Malik Hasan, MD, an Army psychiatrist.

Caraveo, a clinical psychologist with the Federal Bureau of Prisons in civilian life, also served as a clinical psychologist with the Army Reserve. In October, he was called for active duty — his second mobilization in five years. He was slated to deploy to Afghanistan in December and oversee a fitness team, a group of soldiers who offer one- to three-day respite care for soldiers temporarily overwhelmed by stress and fatigue.

His unit, the 467th Combat Operational Stress Control Detachment, arrived at Fort Hood the day before the attack, for a final month of training before the yearlong deployment.

Caraveo joined the Army Reserve in 2000, telling a colleague that the extra $400 a month would help his family. His first deployment stretched from June 2004 to April 2005, during which he provided therapy and monitored psychotropic medication for more than 2,000 service members at Guantanamo Bay.

Humble beginnings

Born in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Caraveo was the youngest of seven children. In 1970 when he was in his early teens, his parents moved the family to El Paso, Texas. Caraveo's family was poor, and he couldn't speak English, so adjusting to U.S. schools was difficult. A friend from college, attorney Felix Saldivar Jr. of El Paso, remembers his friend telling him about a classroom incident when Caraveo was in the sixth grade: The teacher called on him to answer a question. He stood up, but didn't understand what the teacher was saying. The other kids laughed, calling him “stupid” and “idiot.” But rather than causing him to retreat, the incident sparked a fierce drive to succeed in his friend, Saldivar says.

“More than anything, he had this hunger to learn, and he was never satisfied. The obstacles for him became more like challenges,” he says.

Growing up poor and being laughed at for being different might have also helped Caraveo connect with his clients, Saldivar adds. “He was able to relate to people, and share his life experiences with his patients,” he says.

Caraveo attended Bowie High School in El Paso. In 1975, during his senior year, he was recruited to attend Austin College, a small liberal arts school in Sherman, Texas, through a program for bright, disadvantaged Latino high school seniors. That's where Saldivar met Caraveo. They both scraped together enough money from scholarships, financial aid and work-study programs to pay for school, and were always broke. Saldivar remembers one Saturday night, when they scrounged up enough change to buy two orders of fries at a local fast-food restaurant. They slathered the fries in ketchup, topped them with a blizzard of salt, and sat for hours, eating one fry at a time as they talked.

Working with prisoners

Caraveo finished his bachelor's degree at the University of Texas at El Paso, then earned a master's in psychology at Texas Tech in 1980. From there, he went on to earn a PhD in psychology from the University of Arizona in 1986.

He joined the Federal Bureau of Prisons in 1991, starting his career as a psychologist at the federal prison in Tucson, Ariz. He was later promoted to chief psychologist, and served at federal prisons in Loretto, Pa., Safford, Ariz., and Victorville, Calif.

In 2000, he joined the Army Reserve and started a two-year clinical psychopharmacology program at New Mexico State University. Caraveo drove four and a half hours from Tucson, Ariz., to Las Cruces, N.M., one weekend every month to attend the classes, says program director Elaine LeVine, PhD. One of those weekends, Caraveo pulled his damaged car into the parking lot. He'd been in an accident and his car was barely drivable. His fellow students wanted to take him to a hospital, but Caraveo waved them off. After he returned home, Caraveo e-mailed LeVine with an update.

“It turned out he had a fracture in his hip, and he just sat through the whole class,” LeVine says.

That type of perseverance typified Caraveo's sense of determination, she says. “You set your goals and you just do it. I think he really must have communicated that to the people he worked with,” LeVine says.

In 2007, the prison bureau honored Caraveo with the Norman A. Carlson Award for his work designing a system to track the needs of inmates with mental illness. Fellow Bureau of Prisons psychologist Richard Ellis, PhD, saw firsthand the work Caraveo did with inmates during his stint at Victorville. Caraveo deftly oversaw the mental health needs of 3,000 inmates, and helped handle personnel issues in an environment that was highly stressful and potentially dangerous.

“I can just see him, his demeanor with really distressed inmates, who had very limited coping skills,” Ellis remembers. “He could connect with them, and help make their world a little better.”

Before his second mobilization in October, Caraveo was one of three psychologists staffing the bureau's Sexual Offenders Certification Review Branch in Washington, D.C.

Ivonne Bazerman, PsyD, worked with Caraveo at the branch, where they assessed case histories of federal inmates close to release to recommend whether those convicted of sexual crimes should be held in civil custody and receive treatment.

“It's difficult work, you can imagine the stuff we're reading,” she says.

To break the tension, Caraveo would sometimes drop to the floor and start doing push-ups, Bazerman says. Bazerman and a colleague spoke with Caraveo on speakerphone the Tuesday before he was killed. “We're asking him about his experiences, and he's saying, 'OK, enough about that, what about you?'” she says.

A tragic loss

For what turned out to be the last month of his life, Caraveo was training and living with his fellow soldiers. Among them was Col. Kathy Platoni, PsyD, the detachment's clinical director, whom he had met at Guantanamo in 2004.

It was a grueling month at a training center at Fort Hunter Liggett, Calif., with long days hiking in full “battle rattle” of helmet, body armor, weapons and pack, in addition to learning how to operate heavy weapons, she says. Caraveo boosted morale just by being there. He liked to walk up to fellow soldiers, look them in the eye, and say, “Thank you for serving” while shaking their hand, she recalls.

“If you were having a bad day, Major Caraveo would come up to you, and you weren't going to have a bad day anymore,” Platoni says.

His senseless death came as a tremendous shock to his fellow soldiers, who lost four other members of their unit during the attack.

Caraveo leaves behind two grown sons from his first marriage, and a 3-year-old son and two stepdaughters from his second marriage.

“It is a loss of a magnitude that I can't even quantify,” Platoni says.