Dempsey: Fort Hood Lessons Led to 'Less Horrific Outcome' at Navy Yard

"On the question regarding the Rhode Island incident with this individual, we are reviewing all of that. I'm aware of those reports. I haven't seen the specifics, but we will obviously get those kind of specifics. This will be part of the mix here. What should have been done that wasn't done should have been more done. How could we have brought those kind of reports into the clearance process and so on?" the secretary added, referencing the incident six weeks before the shooting where Alexis described paranoid delusions to police officers.

Dempsey did make clear that sequestration did not play a role in Monday's tragedy. "The budget issue did not degrade the security at the Navy Yard and in any way contribute to this," he said.

Dempsey was, though, among those who decided a few years back to alter a mental health question on security clearance forms in an effort to de-stigmatize post-traumatic stress disorder.

Gates announced the change in May 2008 to Question 21 on Standard Form 86, allowing security clearance applicants to not reveal if they sought mental health care in the past seven years if it was “strictly related to adjustments from service in a military combat environment.” The memo was co-signed by current Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

Dempsey said today he "believed that men and women should have the opportunity to overcome their mental disorders or their mental challenges or their clinical health challenges and shouldn't be stigmatized. And so I still remain in that camp, that a man or woman should have the ability to -- with treatment, to overcome them and then to have a fruitful life and gain employment, including inside of the military."

"This particular individual, of course, wasn't a simple matter. I don't know what the investigation will determine, but he committed murder," Dempsey added. "And I'm not sure that any particular question or lack of question on a security clearance would probably have revealed that."

"Obviously, when you go back in hindsight and look at all of this, there were some red flags. Of course there were," Hagel said. "And should we have picked them up? Why didn't we? How could we? All those questions need to be answered."

The 2010 post-Fort Hood report said updating of policies and programs was needed "to identify behavioral indicators of violence."

The review also recommended "establishing a consolidated database to enable organizations across the Department to query, retrieve, and post criminal investigation and law enforcement data in a single repository." It also called for a "DoD Privately Owned Weapons Policy." At Fort Hood these days, permission from the senior commander is needed to carry a privately owned firearm on the base regardless of any state or local concealed carry permit.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas) said Tuesday that "eight disciplinary actions that were swept under the rug sounds a little familiar to me."

"I mean, the political correctness. We saw the same thing with Major Hasan in the Fort Hood shooting. He was promoted. He was passed along. There were signs along the way and no action was taken, and that's precisely the kind of case we want to stop here," McCaul said.

"I think there's just a tendency to want to not deal with the problem. It's real easy to just pass it along. Pass the buck along to another military base, or in this instance to a defense contractor. And just to get that problem out of my office and move it on without looking at the bigger picture here."