- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 9, 2014

President Obama used a memorial service Wednesday for the victims of last week’s shooting at Fort Hood to call for a renewed focus on mental health and raised, once again, the issue of gun control.

The somber service, held on a base devastated by two massacres in five years, mostly focused on honoring the three soldiers gunned down. But the president, as he’s often done in the wake of tragic shootings, spoke of broader issues he believes the nation must confront in order to prevent such acts in the future.

“As a nation, we can do more to help counsel those with mental health issues, to keep firearms out of the hands of those who are having such deep difficulties,” Mr. Obama said. “As a military, we must continue to do everything within our power to secure our facilities and spare others this pain.”

Mr. Obama paid tribute to the heroism of the three soldiers killed — Sgt. Danny Ferguson, Sgt. Carlos A. Lazaney-Rodriguez and Sgt. Timothy Owens.

Ferguson, for example, was killed while holding closed a door in an effort to keep the shooter, Spc. Ivan Lopez, from breaking through.

Sixteen others were wounded in the assault, which immediately revived dark memories of a 2009 shooting at Ford Hood, when Maj. Nidal Hasan claimed 13 lives and wounded more than 30 others.

While some have pointed to those tragedies as evidence that military personnel must be permitted to carry firearms on base, the White House and the Pentagon thus far have rejected that idea.

Instead, Mr. Obama and military leaders have turned their attention to the mental health of the nation’s returning veterans.

In the days since the shooting, it’s become increasingly apparent that Lopez, an Army truck driver who served one tour in Iraq, was suffering from mental illness.

Despite cryptic messages on his Facebook page in the days leading up to the shooting, no one was able to reach him before he turned to violence.

Lopez’s actions have raised some unanswerable questions — namely, why war has profoundly different effects on different members of the armed forces.

“We do not know why one soldier is strengthened by tough times when another cannot see a way forward. But we must and we will be there for them,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said.

Unlike gun control — which continues to bitterly divide lawmakers on Capitol Hill, where efforts to crack down on firearms repeatedly have failed — there is widespread agreement across party lines that more must be done to boost mental health services both for veterans and the American public.

Mr. Obama said that, as more fighting men and women return home from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is vital the nation open its arms to care for those dealing with deep trauma, pain and mental illness.

“Today, four American soldiers are gone. Four Army families are devastated. As commander in chief, I’m determined that we will continue to step up our efforts to reach our troops and veterans who are hurting and deliver to them the care that they need and to make sure we never stigmatize those who have the courage to seek help,” the president said.

Flags were lowered to half-staff at the sprawling Army post, where Mr. Obama met with victims’ relatives before offering his public condolences, the Associated Press reported. The memorial took place at the same spot where the president eulogized victims of Hasan in 2009.

Three battle crosses, helmet-topped rifles above combat boots, stood in front of the speakers’ platform, representing the three soldiers shot and killed.

In attendance were members of the Texas congressional delegation, including Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz. Military officers in attendance included Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Secretary John McHugh, and Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army’s top commander.

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