April 6 (Bloomberg) -- A shooting by an Iraq War veteran at Fort Hood in Texas last week calls attention to the importance of bolstering security at military bases and the emotional well-being of personnel strained by multiple deployments and federal budget cuts, U.S. lawmakers said.
“The issue of the mental health of our service members is critical,” Representative John Carter, a Texas Republican whose district includes part of Fort Hood, said today on ABC’s “This Week” program.
U.S. officials need to learn more about post-traumatic stress disorder and brain injuries, General Peter W. Chiarelli, a former Army vice chief of staff, said on ABC.
“We need to mount a national effort to get at this problem, and ensure that we do our research a lot smarter than we’ve done it in the past,” Chiarelli said.
The Fort Hood shooter, Army Specialist Ivan A. Lopez, served in Iraq for four months during 2011 and was under evaluation for post-traumatic stress disorder and had been prescribed medications for depression, anxiety and insomnia.
Army Secretary John McHugh, testifying last week before a Senate hearing, said Lopez didn’t have any direct involvement in combat while in Iraq and suffered no wounds, adding that a psychiatrist who examined the soldier last month found no indication he was prone to violence.
About 936,000 people serving on active duty in the military were diagnosed with at least one mental illness from 2001 to 2011, according to an August report by the Congressional Research Service. Military spending for mental health was $994 million in 2012, up from $468 million five years earlier.
The April 2 shooting at Fort Hood also highlights the need to bolster security at military bases, lawmakers and officials said.
“I don’t think you can ever 100 percent secure a military base from something like this happening, but I do think it requires a review, a re-analysis of the force protection policies that we have at our military installations and see how can we better secure them,” Representative Mike McCaul of Texas, the chairman of the House homeland security committee, said today on “Fox News Sunday.”
McCaul said that the military should consider hiring more police and allow senior leaders to carry guns on bases. Michael Mullen, a former chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, disagreed.
“We need to review the security procedures,” though allowing people to carry guns on military bases “invites much more difficult challenges,” Mullen said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program.
“The Pentagon has looked at proposals like the one that Congressman McCaul talked about” Dan Pfeiffer, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program. “They don’t think it’s a good idea,”
Obama will attend a memorial service on April 9 at Fort Hood, Pfeiffer said.
More than a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq also has strained the military, lawmakers said.
“We do need to acknowledge that our military, after 13 years of war, that’s a stress,” Senator Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat who sits on the Armed Services Committee, said on Fox. “It’s been 13 years of war, repeated deployments. We in Congress shouldn’t stress them further.”
Kaine said that the military has been hurt by automatic government-wide spending reductions known as sequestration.
“I think we’ve stressed them further with things like sequester and budgetary moves that have deprived them of the certainty that they need,” said Kaine, who was governor of Virginia in 2007 when Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 people at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, the deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history.
“We have to place at the highest priority the well-being and the care of our service members,” taking into account the “many stressors” military personnel and their families face including multiple deployments and “dramatic troop cutbacks,” Representative Tulsi Gabbard, a Hawaii Democrat and an Iraq war veteran, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program.
Law enforcement authorities say Lopez, 34, on April 2 walked into a building at Fort Hood, began shooting, then went to another structure and opened fire again. When approached by a military police officer in a parking lot, he pointed a .45-caliber Smith & Wesson pistol at his own head and shot himself, authorities said.
The death toll was four, including Lopez, with 16 wounded.
All of the people wounded in the shooting are expected to survive, said Matthew Davis, the trauma medical director at Scott & White Healthcare, the operator of the hospital that is treating the patients. Their injuries include wounds to the neck, chest, abdomen and extremities.
The mass shooting was the second in less than five years at Fort Hood, located about 60 miles (97 kilometers) north of Austin, Texas, and home to some 41,000 troops, including the Army’s 1st Calvary and 4th Infantry divisions. In November 2009, Major Nidal Hasan, an army psychiatrist at the facility, killed 13 people and wounded more than 30, later claiming that he viewed the victims as a threat to Taliban leaders in Afghanistan. A military court last August sentenced Hasan to death.
Lopez was a native of Puerto Rico who served in the U.S. territory’s National Guard for nine years, including a one-year deployment to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. He joined the Army in June 2008 as an infantry soldier and, upon reenlisting, became a truck driver.
Lopez, who was married, grew up in Guayanilla, a town on Puerto Rico’s southern coast, according to El Nuevo Dia, a Spanish-language newspaper. Friends and relatives said he had been upset over the death last year of his mother.
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