WASHINGTON – The leaders of an independent review panel toured the scene of the Fort Hood, Texas, shooting rampage today and described how they view the panel’s mission.

Former Veterans Affairs Secretary Togo West and retired Adm. Vern Clark spoke at a short news conference at Fort Hood. The two men met with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates yesterday and received their charge from him.

The panel will review the circumstances surrounding the Nov. 5 shooting to see how future incidents could be avoided. “We will look at policies and procedures that look at how we deal with servicemembers who may cause trouble or harm to their fellows,” West said.

The review is to look at personal reliability programs, counseling programs, procedures on the handling of defense employee’s adverse information, medical screening and pre- and post-deployment evaluations. The panel members also are to look at the response to the incident and see how these procedures could be improved.

Today’s trip to Fort Hood was important to starting the review, Clark, a former chief of naval operations, said.

“It was important to me to see the site, walk the ground and really see the setting,” he said. “Today’s activities have been immensely valuable in providing the baseline of factual information upon which we will grow the rest of the information that is required to conduct the assessment.”

Clark said he was impressed with the Army’s 3rd Corps leadership team. “I just want to single out … the leadership team at the hospital,” he said, adding that the panel also is charged with evaluating the performance of the first responders. “The story about how the first responder team performed is very, very encouraging. It not only involves the leadership team here at Fort Hood, but it involves the leadership teams of the hospitals in the local area and the manner in which they all responded.”

West reminded everyone that the panel is not conducting a criminal investigation and will not interfere with the criminal case against Maj. Nidal M. Hasan, the Army psychiatrist charged with 13 counts of murder who remains hospitalized in intensive care.

West said his group will “not point fingers. We are here to accumulate information and offer our best judgments to the secretary of defense.”

The investigation is departmentwide, Clark said. “The secretary charged us to find the gaps that make us less effective than we desire to be, and to do that, we will go over a wide range of things after we go through the discovery process.”

The panel report is due to Gates by Jan. 15.

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