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A Times Editorial

What a nation owes those who serve

The Fort Hood shootings are a grim reminder this Veterans Day of the far-reaching impact the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are having on America's military families. The man accused of murdering 13 people and wounding another 29 is an Army psychiatrist whose job was to help soldiers adjust between the battlefield and home but who was increasingly troubled himself. No one anticipates soldiers being killed on military bases on American soil before they are sent to the war zone. But the nation owes it to these families and their communities to better identify troubled service members for the sake of safety and unity in the ranks.

Authorities say Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan opened fire in a base processing center where soldiers receive medical and dental care in the run-up to being deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq. Hasan, who was shot and wounded by a base police officer responding to the attack, was reportedly talking to his doctors Tuesday but not cooperating with investigators. Authorities said it is premature to affix a motive, though family members and people who know Hasan, a Muslim, said he was increasingly outspoken in his opposition to U.S. policy in Iraq and Afghanistan. Authorities also have disclosed that U.S. intelligence agencies intercepted e-mails in the past year between Hasan and a radical cleric who once led a mosque where Hasan worshiped in Virginia. Officials said they dropped the matter after determining the messages gave no indication Hasan was inclined to commit violence.

For military families, the massacre only adds to the emotional toll of the wars and the sober realization by all Americans that more should be done to protect and care for our troops. Officials said Hasan had sent warning signs. He questioned the morality of the wars, explored a discharge from the Army and lamented the treatment that he received as a Muslim from his fellow soldiers.

The nation should honor this Veterans Day by reassessing the adequacy of support services for troops deploying between the war zones and home. Since the Afghan war began in 2001, the communities near Fort Hood have seen domestic violence jump by 75 percent and violent crime increase by 22 percent. Returning soldiers say they cannot get in to see the too-few mental health counselors. A Catholic chaplain at Fort Hood said fatigue, stress and divorces are "rampant" at the base. The principal of the local high school blames low grades and behavioral problems of many students on the lack of guidance caused by having so many military parents deployed overseas.

President Barack Obama Tuesday honored the memories of those killed in a memorial service at Fort Hood and those who rushed to their sides: "We need not look to the past for greatness, because it is before our very eyes." The American people always have responded over the past decade when troops needed more resources — whether it was armor for the battlefield, the expanded capacity to treat head wounds from improvised explosives, a new GI Bill or vastly improved conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Veterans Day is a time to recognize the sacrifices all of our military families have made and to recommit the nation to the level of care they deserve.

What a nation owes those who serve 11/10/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 10, 2009 7:57pm]
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