Fort Hood, Texas (CNN) – For the second time in less than five years President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama traveled to Fort Hood in Texas on Wednesday to honor the memory of U.S. Army soldiers killed in a shooting.
"What makes this so painful is that we've been here before," Obama said. "This tragedy tears a wound still raw from five years ago. Once more, soldiers who survived foreign war zone were struck down here at home where they're supposed to be safe."
Officials say Army Spc. Ivan Lopez took a .45-caliber handgun onto the installation last week and killed three people while injuring 16 more. He then took his own life.
The President spoke directly to the families, friends and soldiers who served alongside the three individuals killed in the April 2 attack, recounting what inspired them to join the military and the details of their final acts of service. Acknowledging that the motivations of the assailant are not yet known, Obama emphasized the need to do more to protect soldiers once they return from war.
"In our open society and at vast bases like this, we can never eliminate every risk, but as a nation, we can do more to help counsel those with mental health issues, to keep firearms out of the hands of those who are having such deep difficulties," the President said.
In the years since the last Fort Hood shooting, Obama's administration has confronted what officials describe as a mental health crisis within the military.
American armed forces returning home following drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan have grappled with stress disorders, depression and other mental health conditions brought on by combat and face an overloaded support system the military is urgently trying to remedy.
Officials said Lopez was taking medication for depression and anxiety and was being screened for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, though they declined to link his mental health to the shooting spree.
On Wednesday, Obama repeatedly urged the crowd to "honor" the victims of this attack, first by caring for those suffering from mental illness, "civilian and military," but also by recognizing the contributions that their generation of soldiers have made and can continue to make to the nation.
"In an era when fewer Americans know someone in uniform, every American must see these men and these women, our 9/11 generation, as the extraordinary citizens that they are," the President said.
"When we truly welcome our veterans home, when we show them that we need them not just to fight in other countries, but to build up our own, that our schools and our businesses, our communities and our nation, will be more successful, and America will be stronger and more united for decades to come."
When Obama visited Fort Hood following the 2009 shooting, it was his first time assuming the role of "consoler-in-chief" that has now become familiar.
He's helped comfort families who lost loved ones to natural disasters, building explosions and terror attacks. Later this month, Obama travels to Washington State, where he'll tour damage from a landslide that took more than 30 lives.
But it's Obama's visits to memorial services honoring the victims of mass shootings – from Aurora, Colorado, to Newtown, Connecticut – that have come to represent the nation's seeming inability to reduce gun violence. Such stops have come nearly every year of Obama's presidency, even as his administration has taken steps to address the problem.
After each incident, groups of Americans have called for tighter gun control laws they say could help reduce the number of Americans killed in shootings. Similar calls have been made for greater access to mental health care.
Despite the outcry, Congress has so far been unable to pass new gun restrictions. Without lawmakers' support, the President signed dozens of unilateral executive actions meant to quell gun violence. Actions like banning assault weapons or high capacity magazines, however, still require Congressional approval.
Perhaps nothing embodies the frustrated efforts to end gun violence better than Obama's return to Fort Hood on Wednesday, where he spoke from nearly the exact same spot, in the same role, as in 2009.
Prior to the President's remarks, Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno praised the "large majority" of Army veterans for their "resiliency" in the face of prolonged war and "repeated deployments."
"But there are some who have struggled to bounce back and find peace among life's inherent challenges," Odierno said. "We do not know why one solider is strengthened by tough times but another cannot see a way forward, but we must and we will be there for them."
What drives a soldier to senseless violence remains a mystery, Odierno said, but the Army needs to do more to try to identify the causes of violent behavior and the impulses before they turn into action.
But Odierno called on the Army to do more to try to identify the causes of violent behavior and identify the impulses before they turn into action.
"Any time a soldier believes hurting oneself or others is a solution to the problems they face we must ensure that the Army family is there for them, to show them another way forward and to lift them from their despair," Odierno said.