The Army has approved the awarding of the Purple Heart and a civilian counterpart medal to the soldiers and civilians wounded in the 2009 Fort Hood shooting after years of pressure from victims' families and Congress. Thirteen people were killed and 32 were injured in the shooting carried out by Major Nidal Hassan, an Army psychiatrist, military officials said today.
The move was precipitated by a change in the law that broadened the strict eligibility rules for the medal, which is awarded to those wounded in combat. The shooting victims were previously deemed not eligible for the award because the Nov. 5, 2009, shooting by Hassan was ruled by the military to be a workplace violence incident.
Advocates for the shooting victims have urged the Army for years to reconsider that assessment as a case of terrorism given that Hasan was in communication with Anwar al Awlaki, the American cleric who was a senior leader in Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
They gained support from members of Congress who succeeded in including legislation in the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act that broadened the definition of an attack by a “a foreign terrorist organization." That would include contacts the perpetrator may have had with a foreign terrorist organization prior to the attack and “if the attack was inspired or motivated by the foreign terrorist organization.”
Army Secretary John McHugh has approved awarding the Purple Heart and its civilian counterpart, the Secretary of Defense Medal for the Defense of Freedom, according to an Army statement today.
"The Purple Heart's strict eligibility criteria had prevented us from awarding it to victims of the horrific attack at Fort Hood," McHugh explained in the statement.
"Now that Congress has changed the criteria, we believe there is sufficient reason to allow these men and women to be awarded and recognized with either the Purple Heart or, in the case of civilians, the Defense of Freedom medal. It's an appropriate recognition of their service and sacrifice," McHugh added.
A new Army review prompted by the new legislation determined there was enough evidence to back up that Hasan "was in communication with the foreign terrorist organization before the attack," and that his radicalization and subsequent acts could reasonably be considered to have been "inspired or motivated by the foreign terrorist organization," McHugh said.
The previous eligibility requirements needed a finding that Hasan had been acting at the direction of a foreign terrorist organization.
Reed Rubinstein, a lawyer who advocated on behalf of the families for years, welcomed the Army announcement, though he called it “long-overdue.”
The change in eligibility would not have occurred “but for multiple congressional investigations, dogged media scrutiny, targeted legislation and a federal court action, and the tenacity and dedication of Rep. John Carter, Rep. Mike McCaul, former Rep. Frank Wolf, and former Sen. Joe Lieberman," Rubinstein said.
“But it is the victims themselves who deserve most of the credit,” he added. “Promised by the Commander in Chief that they would be 'made whole' by the government, they refused to let political lies and bureaucratic abuse go unchallenged. They refused to be silent, spoke truth to power and won this important victory.”
The Army will now identify soldiers and civilians eligible for the awards and “contact them about presentation of the awards,” the Army said. Purple Heart recipients automatically qualify for combat-related special compensation upon retirement and are eligible for burial at Arlington National Cemetery.
In August 2013, Hasan was convicted of 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted murder and sentenced to death. He is incarcerated at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, while his case is under appeal.