The victims of the 2009 Fort Hood shooting may eventually receive Purple Hearts after a controversial five-year fight, now that a new agreement has passed through the House and is on its way to the Senate.
Thursday the House passed a “bicameral agreement” on language inserted into the FY 15 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would adjust Purple Heart criteria so that the award, and accompanying benefits, could be given “to service members who are victims of an attack that was inspired or motivated by a U.S. State Department-designated foreign terrorist organization,” Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, and Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, announced Thursday. The language would be retroactively effective as of Sept. 11, 2001.
“This is a huge step in the joint efforts to help victims of the Fort Hood terrorist attack,” Williams said in a statement. “Our nation’s leaders must uphold our solemn commitment to provide for troops in harm’s way – whether at home or abroad.”
Thirteen people were killed, including a pregnant soldier, and 32 others were shot in the November 2009 rampage perpetrated by Army Maj. Nidal Hasan. At his trial, Hasan argued he was acting “in defense of others,” in particular, the Taliban in Afghanistan. Prior to the attack, Hasan had also been in communication with Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born radical al Qaeda cleric hiding in Yemen.
As an ABC News investigation in February 2013 revealed, the survivors of the attack said President Obama and the military had neglected them – and denied them financial benefits – by refusing to call the assault an international terrorist attack.
“Betrayed is a good word,” said former Sgt. Kimberly Munley, who three years prior to the ABC News report had received a hero’s welcome from the White House at Obama’s 2010 State of the Union address. “Not to the least little bit have the victims been taken care of… In fact, they’ve been neglected.”
A Department of Defense position paper obtained by ABC News in April 2013 laid out the military’s logic for treating the attack more like workplace violence than a terrorist incident and withholding the Purple Hearts.
Giving out the award, the Pentagon said, could “irrevocably alter the fundamental character of this time-honored decoration” and “undermine the prosecution of Major Nidal Hasan by materially and directly compromising Major Hasan’s ability to receive a fair trial” by prematurely implying Hasan was a terrorist. The Army told ABC News earlier this year that Hasan had “committed criminal acts of murder and attempted murder,” and he was charged with those crimes, rather than terrorism.
A Purple Heart can be awarded to service members if they are wounded “in action against an enemy of the United States,” “as a result of an international terrorist attack” or in a handful of other circumstances according to the current Department of Defense manual on military decorations.
Critics, including Fort Hood survivors, said the military and politicians were avoiding designating the incident a terrorist attack out of overzealous political correctness.
Former soldier Shawn Manning, who was shot six times by Hasan, told ABC News in February 2013, “Basically, they [military officials] are treating us like I was downtown and I got hit by a car.”
“The DOD position paper is dead wrong,” Rep. Carter said then. “These victims deserve recognition and compensation for the injuries and loss of life from a direct attack on a U.S. military installation.”
Hasan was found guilty and received the death penalty in August 2013. But still, no Purple Hearts for the wounded survivors of his attack.
In their statement Thursday, Reps. Williams and Carter said the Senate is “supportive” of the new legislation and they expect the Senate to pass the bill next week. The next stop would be President Obama’s desk.
“I urge the President to forego any further politics on this issue and keep his promise by signing the NDAA into law,” Carter said.
Reed Rubinstein, an attorney representing several of the survivors, said he’s confident that the new language will clear its last legislative hurtles, but admitted that there’s always “ample opportunity for bureaucratic mischief” in applying the new language to the Fort Hood victims.
“But we will be watching them to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Rubinstein said. “This means a tremendous amount to the survivors. The DOD had the authority, and we believe the obligation, to have taken these steps five years ago instead of going through the whole workplace violence charade.”
A spokesperson for the White House decline to comment for this report.