Here’s the transcript from CNN’s “State of the Union,” hosted by John King.
KING: We begin this morning with the massacre at Ft. Hood, Texas. Twelve soldiers and one civilian were killed and 38 others wounded in Thursday’s mass shooting by an Army psychiatrist. Ft. Hood plans a memorial service on Tuesday, and the White House says the president and the first lady will attend. Also on hand will be our guest this morning, the Army chief of staff, General George Casey, whose job includes managing the severe stress of the force because of eight years of war and repeat deployments.
General Casey, thank you for joining us. One of the big questions people want to know is was Major Hasan acting alone? We understand now that he’s off the ventilator and that he is speaking to investigators. What do you know about that question?
CASEY: Well, John, obviously, as you know, there’s an ongoing investigation, and I can’t speak to the particulars of the investigation or to any motivation of Major Hasan’s. But I can tell you, I was at Ft. Hood with the secretary of the Army, John McHugh, on Friday, and it was at once a gut-wrenching and an uplifting experience. Gut-wrenching because the suspect is one of our own and it happened on one of our bases, and uplifting from the stories that I heard of our soldiers rushing to the aid of one another. But it’s a kick in the gut.
KING: If you look at the front pages, in the last few days, this is from the “San Antonio Express News,” “Iraq vets weren’t stunned by spree.” Some who knew the suspect doubted his loyalty, stability. What does the Army know about this man in the days and months before this? Because many people say he openly opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are these Internet postings attributed to him saying that a suicide bomber was akin to a soldier diving on a hand grenade to save his comrades.
CASEY: And again, that will be all part of the investigation, and we are encouraging soldiers and leaders who may have information relevant to the information about the suspect to provide that information to the criminal investigation division and to the FBI. But again, that’s something — you know, there’s been a lot of speculation going on, and probably the curiosity is a good thing. But we have to be careful. Because we can’t jump to conclusions now based on little snippets of information that come out. And frankly, I am worried — not worried, but I’m concerned that this increased speculation could cause a backlash against some of our Muslim soldiers. And I’ve asked our Army leaders to be on the lookout for that. It would be a shame — as great a tragedy as this was, it would be a shame if our diversity became a casualty as well.
KING: You have about 2,000 — I mean, it’s 1,900-something Muslims…
CASEY: About 3,000 active Guard and reserve.
KING: 3,000 active Guard and reserves. Do you believe there is discrimination against them to some degree now?
CASEY: No, I don’t think so. I don’t think so. I worry that, again, the speculation could cause things that we don’t want to see happen.
KING: This man, Major Hasan, a psychiatrist. He’s charged with one of the great missions you have in the Army right now, helping the men and women of the armed services, and in your case the Army to deal with the stress, the constant stress of these deployments and the like. And yet, and I don’t want to get into the facts of this investigation, I understand, but if you have someone who was known to openly oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, should somebody like that be counseling somebody who might have PTSD and be coming home wondering about maybe a combat operation where they had to kill people, questioning themselves what they did?
CASEY: Again, I think it’s a fair question. It’s one that we certainly as an Army want to know the answer to, and we will take a hard look at ourselves to make sure that we properly executed our responsibility to organize and train the Army. But again, wait too soon to get in there and form any hard judgments about that.
KING: One of the — if you talk to his family members, one of the things they say is that he was very troubled. He had been troubled for some time, but he was about to be deployed, and he was very, very troubled. And they say that he wanted out. That he had tried to get out of the Army, saying that he did not believe he belonged. I know you’re short psychiatrists, I know you’re short mental health professionals, but is there any record that he actually requested to be let go?
CASEY: John, again, I can’t get into anything dealing with the motivations of the suspect. And that will all come out in the course of the investigation.
I can tell you that we have put a huge effort into the mental fitness of this force over the last several years. You know, since 2007, we have mounted a major stigma reduction campaign that has greatly reduced the stigma to coming forward, to get help for mental problems. We have a way to go. But what I’ll tell you, the stigma against mental health is not necessarily just for the Army. This is a societal problem that we all have to wrestle with.
KING: You mentioned the stigma of mental health. I was out at Ft. Lewis in Washington state, just as this shooting was unfolding at Ft. Hood, your largest installation in Texas. And one of the guys I met is a remarkable hero. His name is Danny Dudek. He is a lieutenant colonel, was in the surge in Iraq, was paralyzed from the waist down. In the old days, he would be sent home from the Army. But he wants to serve, and he now runs the warriors in transition unit out there. They have 500 to 600 soldiers. Some have just sprained an ankle or broken a leg, but others have traumatic brain injuries and PTSD and lost limbs, and many of them are trying to get back on the battlefield.
They have in that unit, one social worker, social worker, not a psychiatrist, for every 50 troops, which they say is great progress. But I want you to listen to Lieutenant Colonel Dudek, who talks about how they could use more.
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LT. COL. DANNY DUDEK, COMMANDER, WARRIOR TRANSITION BATTALION: We’re all making strides to improve on the great behavior (ph), you know, the traumatic brain injury that we have here, but, you know, to some soldiers, just, we can’t get them — all this to them, and we just don’t make it on some of these soldiers. And that’s just not acceptable to me.
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KING: We just don’t make it on some of these soldiers. What is it that you need? Is it more time, is it more money, is it more studies?
CASEY: No, certainly not more studies. We have hired over — just in the last two years, over 900 more medical health providers. The tricare regions have hired over 2,800 providers. We’ve instituted a program with the Department of Defense called military family life consultants, where we get certified behavioral health specialists and resurge them towards the returning brigades. It is a challenge, across the country, in the number of mental health providers that are available, particularly in rural areas. And it’s something that we all need to work together.
KING: I want you to hear your own words from about two years ago. This is General Casey testifying at the House Armed Services Committee, September 2007, about this very challenge.
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CASEY: We’re also challenged by the lack of availability of mental health specialists, both inside the Army — I think we’re under 80 percent — and in the civil sector supporting our bases. And we’re taking measures to increase the number of mental health specialists that are available to soldiers and families.
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CASEY: I’m consistent.
KING: You said you’ve made progress since then, but I guess the question is, is it good enough, and what else can be done, in the sense that if you pick up the Washington Post, they say the Army currently has 408 psychiatrists for its force of 545,000 people. That would be a woefully low number to many, given all the stress these men and women are under.
CASEY: But I mean, psychiatrists aren’t the only providers here. There’s a range of different providers here in behavioral health specialists. And again, we continue to grow and build a number of providers for our soldiers and family members. And I think that we ought not forget about that. It’s not just about the soldiers, it’s about the family members and it’s about the children who are affected by this.
KING: There was a remarkable woman, police officer, who came to the aid on Ft. Hood. And a question I have faced from women on the staff, if you look on the Internet and look at blog postings, there are many who say if this heroic woman could come and essentially disable this shooter and stop the killing and perform so admirably, why can’t women have a more active role in combat operations? It’s a question, of course, you have faced.
CASEY: Yes. And I don’t think there’s any question that women have played a much more active role in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. I mean, there is no front and rear lines in the type of combat that we’re fighting today.
CASEY: And frankly, if you look at the number of the victims, both killed and wounded, there were a good number of female soldiers who were part of that processing. They were headed off to combat.
KING: If you had five minutes with Major Hasan, what would you ask him?
CASEY: You know, someone asked me that the other day. And I said the same thing. I can’t go there right now. We have to let the investigation take its course.
KING: Can’t go there because of the investigation, or can’t go there because of your own emotions about the incident?
CASEY: No, can’t go there because of the investigation. And anything I might say as the leader of the Army could hinder that investigation or prosecution down the road.
KING: Do you believe he’ll be prosecuted in the military system or in the civilian system?
CASEY: That is something that is being actively worked between the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice.
KING: Much more to discuss with General George Casey, including whether the troops exist, where would he find them if President Obama decides to send thousands more to Afghanistan.
KING: Some important context before we continue our conversation with the Army chief of staff, General George Casey. Let’s take a look here at the stress on the United States military. 188,000 troops currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. More than 750,000 members of the service have been deployed at least twice in the past eight years. Up to 11 percent of Afghanistan veterans and 20 percent of Iraq veterans experienced post-traumatic stress disorder.
Let me ask you a broader question about the potential impact of this. Ft. Hood is the largest Army installation. It is critical to getting forces overseas to Iraq and Afghanistan, other operations around the world. Will this incident and the investigation and the potential impact on the soldiers at Ft. Hood affect the decisions you have to make about rotations of troops?
CASEY: Right now, there is no operational impact of this particular incident. That may change over time as we look at the specific impact on some of the units that we’re scheduled to deploy. But broadly, across the Army, this will not have an impact on our ability to provide trained and ready forces to Iraq and Afghanistan.
KING: It does happen, though, at a time, the force is under significant strain. I want to go back through some time, just to go through this. This is in August of 2007, you talked about the significant strain Iraq and Afghanistan were placing on your ability and the Army’s ability to respond to challenges.
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CASEY: Today’s Army is out of balance. We’re consumed with meeting the current demands and we’re unable to provide ready forces as rapidly as we would like for other contingencies, nor are we able to provide an acceptable tempo of deployments to sustain our soldiers and families for the long haul.
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KING: Let’s fast forward from 2007 to just last month, October 2009, and it sounds like the situation hasn’t improved much.
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CASEY: We are so weighed down by our current demands, it’s difficult to do the things we know we need to do to preserve the all- volunteer force and to prepare to do other things.
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KING: And at this moment, General Casey, the president of the United States has been meeting with his war council, deciding, should I send 10,000, 20,000, 30,000, maybe 40,000 more troops into Afghanistan. As the president nears that decision, if he says 30,000 troops, 40,000 troops, do you have them? Where do they come from?
CASEY: Back to your question here about the levels of stress. I mean, the Army remains out of balance. But we started in 2007 with a program to get ourselves back in balance by 2011. And since 2007, we have added 40,000 soldiers to the active force, which is a significant step forward, and we’re off of 15-month deployments. We’re beginning to come off of stop-loss, and we’re beginning to gradually increase the time the soldiers spend at home between deployments. So we are making progress, and we’re frankly in a better position today than we were two and a half years ago.
We need to continue to make progress toward that goal of one year out, two years back for the active force; one year out, four years back for the Guard and reserve. We have scientific studies that we’ve just completed that shows that after a year in combat, it takes you about two years to get stress levels back to normal garrison levels. And so we need to continue to make progress towards that goal.
KING: Can you continue to make that progress if the president has to send 30,000 or 40,000 more troops, decides to send… CASEY: You would have to look at the specifics of the president’s decision, but again, as I said, we have already made progress, and I would look for that progress to continue.
KING: To what do you attribute the suicide rate? If you look at the charts — and we have some of the numbers, you can go back to 2004, 67 suicides in the Army. 2005, it was up to 87. Then the numbers jump, 2006, 2007. 2008, 140. So far in 2009, 117. And about a third, about 35 percent of these suicides are from soldiers who have not yet deployed. What does that tell you?
CASEY: What it tells you is that predicting human behavior remains very, very difficult. I mean, as you saw in your chart, since 2004, we’ve increased our suicides by an average of about 18 a year. Last year, we exceeded the civilian rate.
Unfortunately, the progression will remain about the same this year. We’ll exceed the number of suicides last year.
We’ve had a very aggressive program to get after this, to include a suicide stand-down across the entire Army. One of the things as we looked at the challenges facing the Army was that we felt we were a little light on the preventative measures, in giving soldiers the skills that they need to prevent mental problems and suicides. And so we instituted in October a program called comprehensive soldier fitness, which is a long-term development program designed to build resilience in our soldiers. And it’s already implemented across the force. Tomorrow, we’ll have 150 sergeants and a few family members up at University of Pennsylvania going through the first court to build master resilience trainers. And our goal is by next year to have one of these trainers in every battalion in the Army. So we’re looking at it both from the preventative side and from the assistance and treatment side.
KING: And when you sit here and you think, you know, long way to go, but you’ve made considerable progress from where you were, and then something like Ft. Hood happens, do you say, isolated incident, or does it make you rethink? Are we really making all this progress I think we’re making?
CASEY: We have to go back and look at ourselves and ask ourselves the hard questions.
CASEY: Are we doing the right things? But, again, we’ll learn from this incident. It’s way too early to draw any kind of specific conclusions from it, but we’ll ask ourselves the hard questions about what we’re doing and about what impact — what changes we should make as a result of this incident at Ft. Hood.
KING: How does General George Casey deal with stress? These issues that your men and women are facing every day, and perhaps thinking a little bit more about it on this Sunday because of the tragedy last week. How do you deal with it?
CASEY: I’ll tell you, Friday was, as I said, a gut-wrenching and uplifting day. And my wife and I went home, talked a lot about it. And then yesterday, I went for a long bike ride. And I find that’s helpful, just to get a little physical activity.
KING: The president of the United States will be down at Ft. Hood on Tuesday for a big memorial service. I know the brass from the Pentagon will be there as well. What is the message you need to hear from the commander in chief at this moment?
CASEY: I think the message the commander in chief will come out with is the same message that he came out with in his Saturday radio address. That as horrific as this incident was and what it showed about the bad side of human nature, the reaction of our soldiers is something to be extremely proud of. And the full — and I think he’ll also let them know, let the people know that the full support of the United States is behind them.
KING: General George Casey is the Army’s chief of staff. Sir, thanks very much for being with us.
CASEY: Thanks, John.
KING: When we come back, a shift to politics. Republicans made some inroads in Tuesday’s off-year elections and we’ll talk with one of the big winners, Governor-elect Bob McDonnell of Virginia about the big issues facing his state and the country — rising unemployment, health care reform. We’ll also ask whether his victory is the start of a Republican comeback. Stay with us.
KING: I’m John King and this is “State of the Union.” Here are stories breaking this Sunday morning. The Taliban are claiming responsibility for a deadly suicide bombing in northwest Pakistan. Officials say a car bomber detonated 22 pounds of explosives outside the home of an anti-Taliban mayor. He and 11 others were killed, including a young girl. Dozens were injured.
Military investigators say all evidence indicates the suspect in the Ft. Hood shooting spree acted alone. Major Nidal Malik Hasan is accused of opening fire at the Texas Army post Thursday, killing 13 people and wounding dozens more. Hasan, who was injured during a shootout with police, has been taken off a ventilator, and he remains in intensive care. Investigators have yet to identify a motive for that attack.