Texas’ congressional leaders are ramping up efforts to make sure victims of the worst mass shooting on a military base get the benefits they need.Now that Maj. Nidal Hasan has been sentenced to death for the 2009 Fort Hood massacre, they want to make sure that the dozens of military men and women shot during the attack are no longer denied some combat-related healthcare and benefits.They and others have been working to address this issue for years, since the shooting was classified as “workplace violence” rather than an act of terrorism.“There is still work to be done,” said U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, a Weatherford car dealer. “It’s past time for the Obama administration to label this attack what it really is — a terrorist attack. “Now, more than ever, the victims of this terrible tragedy deserve the federal benefits awarded to troops injured in combat situations as they continually struggle to make ends meet while paying for medical care out of their own pockets.”On Monday, several Republican leaders including Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, Williams and Rep. John Carter of Round Rock, will arrive in Killeen to discuss new legislation they plan to address in both chambers of Congress to support and honor the shooting victims.Their proposal, the “Honoring the Fort Hood Heroes Act,” would give the shooting victims the same status given to 9-11 victims. They would all be eligible for the Purple Heart Award or the Defense Department’s civilian award equivalent.And the Fort Hood shootings would officially be declared a terrorist attack on the United States.This legislation is in addition to other proposals, such as HR 3049, that would ensure that the victims at the Fort Hood, as well as victims of a 2009 shooting outside a recruiting station in Little Rock, receive the same benefits as Purple Heart recipients, which include combat-related special compensation.Several congressional leaders have said they are frustrated that Hasan continued receiving paychecks totaling nearly $300,000 during the years he has remained behind bars waiting for trial. The salary will now stop.The Stop Pay for Violent Offenders Act has been filed in the House, and would let the military suspend pay for those arrested and charged with rape, sexual assault or a capital offense.U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas was among those Wednesday to issue a statement on Hasan receiving the death penalty.“Hasan will face the ultimate justice, but this can’t bring back the American heroes killed in the terrorist attack at Fort Hood,” he said.Before the trial, military prosecutors 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.Williams said he is ready to continue working on behalf of the victims.“I will continue supporting and pushing for the passage of several pieces of legislation in Congress that will provide the relief, benefits and honor the victims have long awaited,” he said.
Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610 Twitter: @annatinsley