James Rominger has been deployed to Germany, Japan, Korea and Vietnam and served in the Army for more than 30 years. He says soldiers are prepared for the worst when serving overseas, but they do not expect to be attacked at home.
“It’s incomprehensible that things like this could happen at a place that you feel like should be the safest place in the world,” said Rominger, a former senior command sergeant major.
Spc. Ivan Lopez opened fire April 2 at Fort Hood, killing three fellow soldiers and injuring 16 more before turning the gun on himself. Fort Hood, approximately 98 miles from San Marcos, is the site of a mass shooting in 2009 carried about by former Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan, who killed 13 people and injured more than 30 others.
Rominger, who has lived in Killeen for 41 years, gathered with a group of veterans at a Shipley Do-Nuts location in Killeen the day after last Wednesday’s shooting. The veterans swapped stories and reflected on the shooting over coffee and doughnuts. Being in a war is “hard to take,” Rominger said, so veterans often bond together “when horrible events take place.”
“It’s just unbelievable that (soldiers) go off and fight in these terrible countries and come back here and worse things happen to them,” Rominger said.
Veterans in San Marcos and at Texas State are trying to process the news.
Jude Prather, city councilman and Hays County veterans service officer, served in Iraq from 2008 to 2009 and was stationed at Fort Hood. Prather said the news of the shooting was difficult to hear, especially considering the nature of the incident.
“For what he did, there is literally no excuse,” Prather said.
Texas State is has been ranked in the top 15 percent of military friendly colleges by G.I. Jobs magazine every year since 2009. According to the Office of Veteran Affairs, there are currently 980 veterans receiving benefits enrolled at Texas State.
Mike Nelson, president of the Veterans Alliance at Texas State, said he was shocked by the news of last week’s shooting and is concerned about the larger implications of the circumstances of the incident.
“It seems like the biggest thing most people worry about is that there’s a severe lack of resources and options when it comes to mental healthcare,” Nelson said. “It’s starting to become glaringly obvious in the veteran community.”
Lopez’s mental health became a major focus of the shooting’s investigation. He was “undergoing a variety of treatments and diagnoses of mental health issues ranging from depression to anxiety to sleep disturbance,” Army Secretary John McHugh said during an April 3 press conference at Fort Hood.
The Counseling Center at Texas State offers specialized counseling services to veterans, as well as a ‘From Service Member to Student,’ group to help them adjust to the college experience. A readjustment counseling therapist from the Austin Vet Center is available for appointments on Thursdays for combat veterans.
There is often a stigma attached to seeking mental help, Prather said. Many times, the paperwork for soldiers to receive benefits upon returning home does not reflect the mental or emotional trauma sustained during service, making it difficult for veterans to seek and receive help.
“We’ve got to make sure our soldiers are getting the healthcare services they need.” Prather said.