There were a couple of points that immediately stood out in the Pentagon's report on the shooting that left 13 dead and 43 wounded at Fort Hood in November. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton made note of them this month in the first of two congressional hearings on what went wrong. The most glaring detail was the disconnect between the glowing performance reports written by the supervisors of the alleged gunman, Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan, and the records of his actual performance, which described him as unprofessional, erratic, and disturbing to both his colleagues and his patients. Equally alarming, Skelton noted, was that in cases where Hasan's troubling behavior was cited in his files, that information wasn't shared interdepartmentally. This, in turn, "leads to the bottom-line question," Skelton said. "Was a great deal overlooked because this was a medical person in a specialty in which there is a shortage?"
The answer—a resounding yes—is of little dispute among senior defense officials. The shortage of mental-health professionals in the military is well documented. Togo West, former secretary of the Army and of Veterans Affairs, cochaired the independent panel on the Fort Hood shooting and told Skelton that because the Army has too few psychiatrists to treat soldiers, some officers might have given Hasan a wink and a nod for promotion, rather than hold him back.
Hasan's superiors made sure that accounts of his troubling behavior did not follow him in performance reviews.. "Supervisors don't always know what they're dealing with," West told the Senate Armed Services committee last week. The Ft. Hoodlessons learned report notes that "some medical officers failed to apply appropriate judgment and standards of officership with respect to the alleged perpetrator." These officers might soon be facing disciplinary action.
The report and subsequent hearings highlight the considerable information-sharing gaps that still exist throughout the government, despite efforts aimed at correcting the rifts exposed in the wake of September 11. "How can a commander connect the dots," West wondered, "if he doesn't have the information?"
The report brings up other less frequently discussed issues as well, including the tricky prospect of clarifying "guidelines for religious accommodation" to "help commanders distinguish appropriate religious practices from those that might indicate a potential for violence or self-radicalization." It also raises concerns that have been circulating within the halls of the Pentagon about how the failure to reprimand Hasan for his behavior not only led to violence but also affected the caliber of clinical care that soldiers were getting. The review of the treatment that Hasan provided to patients remains classified, but the mere question has prompted soul-searching within the military about how to better support therapists who care for soldiers, to ensure that troops, in turn, are getting the help that they desperately need.
- See photos of the aftermath of the shootings.