Don’t forget the victims.That’s the message a group of congressional leaders hopes to get out, as testimony in the court-martial of the gunman in the deadly 2009 Fort Hood shooting begins today. Several members of Congress say the dozens of military men and women shot during the attack at the Central Texas military base have long been denied combat-related healthcare and benefits because the shooting was classified as “workplace violence” rather than an act of terrorism.“This was a terrorist attack,” said Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, a Weatherford car dealer and one of the lawmakers fighting to give the victims additional benefits. “It was on American soil. “We need to get on with helping these young victims.”Williams and others propose HR3049, to ensure that victims of the attack at Fort Hood — along with victims of the 2009 shooting outside a military recruiting station in Little Rock — receive the same benefits as Purple Heart recipients, which include combat-related special compensation.“These are American soldiers who were attacked on base, by an enemy of this country, for doing their job,” said Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., a sponsor of the bill and a former prosecutor at Fort Hood. “We have a moral obligation to make sure they get the care and benefits they need, but we have run into repeated objections from the Department of Defense on how to achieve that goal.”Testimony in the military trial of Maj. Nidal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in one of the worst mass shootings on a military base, begins today. If convicted, Hasan faces the death penalty or life without parole.Hasan, an American-born Muslim, will serve as his own attorney in this trial. He has said he shot the solders in the “defense of others” to defend the Afghanistan Tailban — an argument the judge has ruled that Hasan may not bring up during the trial.Congressional leaders say that since the mass shooting, federal officials have declined to classify the shooting as an act of terror, which would make the victims eligible for a Purple Heart and benefits that go along with it.When President Barack Obama visited Fort Hood shortly after the shootings, he said, “This is a time of war.”“And yet these Americans did not die on a foreign field of battle,” Obama said. “They were killed here, on American soil, in the heart of this great American community. It is this fact that makes the tragedy even more painful and even more incomprehensible.”This bill would give all military victims wounded or killed in the shooting all the benefits given to Purple Heart recipients, make them eligible for combat-related special compensation and encourage state and local governments to make them victims eligible for any additional benefits they may qualify for.So far, lawmakers who have signed on to the bill include Rooney, Williams and fellow Republican Reps. John Carter of Round Rock, Tim Griffin of Arizona, Michael McCaul of Austin and Frank Wolf of Virginia.“The victims of these tragic shootings deserve the full help and devotion of our country,” said Carter, whose district includes part of Fort Hood. “This bill brings us one step closer to providing the soldiers of the Fort Hood and Little Rock shootings the benefits they deserve.”McCaul, who heads the House Homeland Security committee, said lawmakers need to recognize and honor the victims.They “deserve to be treated as the heroes they are,” he said. “Anyone who lays down their life for this country must be respected by our nation.”Military prosecutors have argued that giving Purple Heart awards to the victims might influence jurors in Hasan’s trial by indicating that the government has recognized him as a terrorist.No matter what, Williams said it’s time for the government to stand up and help these victims.“It has been nearly four years since the horrific massacre at Fort Hood ... and the victims and their families are still struggling with the physical, financial and emotional trauma without any help from the federal government,” said Williams, whose district includes part of the military base.
Anna Tinsley, 817-390-7610 Twitter: @annatinsley