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Lawmakers launch investigation into Fort Hood after 28th death this year

Lawmakers launch investigation into Fort Hood after 28th death this year
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Two House subcommittees on Tuesday opened an investigation into the string of recent soldier deaths at Fort Hood, Texas, and called on the Army to provide more documents and information. 

The House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on National Security and the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel "are jointly investigating whether an alarming pattern of recent tragedies at Fort Hood, Texas, may be symptomatic of underlying leadership, discipline, and morale deficiencies throughout the chain-of-command," wrote the respective subpanel heads, Reps. Stephen LynchStephen Francis LynchHouse Oversight requests Secret Service briefing on threats of extremist violence in wake of Capitol riot The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Republicans squeeze Biden with 0 billion COVID-19 relief alternative Democratic lawmaker vaccinated for COVID-19 tests positive MORE (D-Mass) and Jackie SpeierKaren (Jackie) Lorraine Jacqueline SpeierHillicon Valley: Google lifting ban on political ads | DHS taking steps on cybersecurity | Controversy over TV 'misinformation rumor mills' House Democrats urge Biden to make his pick for acting FCC chair permanent Lawmakers clash over gun prohibition in Natural Resources Committee room MORE (D-Calif.), in a letter to Army Secretary Ryan McCarthyRyan McCarthyOvernight Defense: Army details new hair and grooming standards | DC National Guard chief says Pentagon restricted his authority before riot | Colorado calls on Biden not to move Space Command Capitol Police chief apologizes, admits to department's failures in riot DC National Guard commander says Pentagon restricted his authority before riot MORE

"Where appropriate, we intend to seek justice on behalf of those in uniform, and their families, who may have been failed by a military system and culture that was ultimately responsible for their care and protection.”

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Fort Hood is one of the military's most troubled installations, with an average of 129 felonies committed annually between 2014 and 2019, including cases of homicide, sexual assault, kidnapping, robbery and aggravated assault, according to Army data.

Last week, Pvt. Corlton Chee, 25, died after he collapsed following a physical fitness training exercise five days earlier. He was the 28th soldier at the post to die this year, according to The Associated Press.

Chee's death follows the disappearances and later discovery of the bodies of  Sgt. Elder Fernandes, 23, Pfc. Vanessa Guillen, 20, Pvt. Mejhor Morta, 26, and Pfc. Gregory Morales, 24. 

Fernandes was found hanging in a tree in late August in Temple, Texas, about 28 miles from the base. His family attorney has said he was “humiliated” after reporting sexual abuse, and his death is under investigation. 

Guillen, the highest-profile death, went missing in April before her body was discovered in July. Army officials suspect another soldier, Aaron David Robinson, of bludgeoning her to death.

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Morta, meanwhile, was found unresponsive on July 17 near Stillhouse Hollow Lake, which acts as a reservoir and is operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Fort Worth District.

Morales went missing exactly one year before Fernandes, and his remains were discovered in June in Killeen, Texas. His death remains under investigation.

The Army has since announced changes to Fort Hood leadership. It announced last week it was removing the commander, Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt, from his role and barring him from a planned position at another Texas base.

McCarthy in July directed the service to independently review the command climate at the installation.

But Lynch and Speier say that's not enough. 

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“While the Army has directed an independent review of Fort Hood, Congressional oversight is necessary to determine whether base leadership—by omission or commission— has allowed or enabled a culture to exist that undermines the values and traditions of the U.S. Army,” they write.

The two are requesting all relevant medical and administrative records and communications between Fort Hood leadership, military police, the Army Criminal Investigative Division, and state and local law enforcement related to any sexual assault or harassment allegations made by Fernandes, Guillen, Morales and Morta. It also wants all records and communications related to their disappearances and deaths.

They also want the specific timelines related to the Fort Hood response to any sexual assault or harassment allegations made by the four soldiers. 

They ask that the Army provide the documents by Oct. 2.