By Justin Sink
President Obama on Wednesday vowed to step up efforts to help veterans and soldiers suffering from mental health issues, and pledged the nation would stand with the families of victims killed in last week's Fort Hood shooting.
"We must honor these men with a renewed commitment to keep our troops safe — not just in battle, but on the home front," Obama said at a memorial service for the fallen soldiers.
The president said the tragedy "tears a wound still raw" from another shooting on the base five years ago, when an Army psychiatrist killed 12 and injured 31 others at the base.
"It is love, tested by tragedy, that brings us together again," Obama said.
The president's remarks focused largely on the lives and families of the three soldiers killed. Obama heralded the soldiers for embodying the "shining values" of loyalty, duty and honor that guided "the greatest army the world has ever known." And he told families that, while he could not "begin to fathom your anguish," he knew they had "poured your love and your hope" into the soldiers.
"We draw strength from you," Obama said. "Even in your grief, even as your heart breaks, we see in you that eternal truth, that love never ends."
Obama's remarks shied away from specific policy proposals, but he did vow to do more to help those suffering from mental illness. The shooter, Spc. Ivan Lopez, was reportedly being evaluated for post-traumatic stress disorder.
"In our open society, and at vast bases like this, we can never eliminate every risk," Obama said. "But 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. As a military, we must continue to do everything in our power to secure our facilities and spare others this pain."
In the past — and notably in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting — the president has used gun violence tragedies to reiterate his call for an expansion of background checks and controls on assault weapons.
His speech on Wednesday lacked such a call to action, but press secretary Jay Carney said the White House efforts on that front continued.
"You know the disappointment he felt when the Congress failed to heed the desires of an overwhelming majority of the American people and refused to pass a commonsense measure to expand background checks," Carney said.
And Obama repeatedly emphasized that the administration would do more to help those suffering from mental illness.
"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, to deliver to them the care that they need, and to make sure we never stigmatize those who have the courage to seek help," he said.
Before speaking, the president and first lady Michelle Obama met privately with victims and their families.
The shooting has also provoked a debate over whether the Pentagon should review its existing policy, which only allows troops to bring concealed weapons onto military bases under tightly controlled circumstances.
Some Republican lawmakers have argued that reversing the ban could help limit instances of violence like the Fort Hood shooting.
"We should be looking at the idea of senior leadership at these bases, give them the ability to carry a weapon," House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) told "Fox News Sunday."
"They defend us overseas and defend our freedom abroad, so the idea that they are defenseless when they come on our home bases, I think, Congress should be looking at that and having a discussion with the bases about what would be the best policy."
Last week, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno told a Senate panel such a change wasn't necessary. At the memorial service on Wednesday, Odierno said the Army would learn and "adapt" from the tragedy, while avoiding a specific policy prescription.
And on Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman Steve Warren said it was "too soon to tell" if a policy review was necessary.
"As this investigation continues to unfold, we will seek continued resolution and continued increase in focus on specifically what it is that we'll be reviewing policywise," Warren said. "For now, the focus is getting the investigation completed, taking care of the wounded and their families, and bringing Fort Hood back as rapidly as possible to normal operations."
— This story was updated at 4:17 p.m.