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Missed signs puzzling as Hasan picture emergesThe Army is severely short of enough mental health professionals to properly attend to soldiers after eight years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the Pentagon and Congress are asking whether that shortage may have played a role in the ability of the accused Fort Hood shooter, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, to elude detection despite a spotty work record and suspicious behavior.

Hasan’s competence and radicalism stirred concern among his fellow students and superiors and he was counseled for proselytizing to his patients, but he nevertheless progressed in his schooling and his military career throughout his six years at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

He was promoted to major in May and transferred to Fort Hood in July.

As part of the Pentagon’s review of the Fort Hood incident, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has ordered an assessment of whether Hasan was properly retained and promoted in the Army Medical Corps, and whether anything interfered with Army procedures for discharging a soldier found "not to be fully qualified or unsuitable for continued military service."

Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committees, said she believes "there was a reluctance" to question Hasan’s service "because of the shortage of psychiatrists in the Army."

The committee will investigate whether that shortage meant "numerous warning signs were ignored," she said.

It’s a charge Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomaker, surgeon general of the Army, flatly denies. He said the Army would never promote sub-par officers simply to keep up with demand for mental health doctors.

"Quality is always the first priority," he said at a media roundtable last month.

Schoomaker added there is no connection between those who are responsible for providing enough caregivers in the field and those who evaluate the individual officers.

Although the Army has hired hundreds of psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses and social workers since 2007, Gen. Peter Chiarelli, vice chief of staff of the Army, said the service is still short about 750 to 800 experts.

In Afghanistan, there is one mental health provider for every 1,123 soldiers. Army officials have said they want to lower that ratio to one provider for every 700 soldiers — a bigger task now that 30,000 additional troops are headed there.

In the last year, the Army has instituted multiple efforts to recruit and retain people in this field, including offering large bonuses, increasing loan repayment allocations and hiring foreign doctors.

"Does [the shortage] affect decisions? Absolutely," said Barbara Van Dahlen, who, as head of Give an Hour, a nonprofit organization that offers free counseling to veterans, deals often with the Defense Department.

"There is tremendous pressure on those in the system to do more than can possibly do," she said. "You hear conversations of people saying they can’t keep up with this pace."

Since the Fort Hood mass shooting, Van Dahlen said, many in the mental health community have wondered whether Hasan was transferred to Fort Hood in July in an effort to pass the buck, offering a change of venue so his superiors would not have to address his problems directly.

Civilian psychiatrists and psychologists said Hasan’s reported proselytizing would have raised red flags in the private sector.


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