After a long struggle by lawmakers, the U.S. Army announced Friday that the victims of the Fort Hood shootings in 2009 will receive the Purple Heart or its civilian equivalent, the Defense of Freedom award, and the benefits that accompany them.
The 13 people killed and 32 injured by a Muslim extremist — who was also a U.S. Army officer and psychiatrist — had been denied the recognition until last year when Congress passed and the president signed legislation that put them on a par with the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“The Purple Heart’s strict eligibility criteria had prevented us from awarding it to victims of the horrific attack at Fort Hood,” said Secretary of the Army John McHugh in announcing the decision.
“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 said.
It was vindication for members of Congress from Texas who had been battling the Pentagon’s earlier position that the Nov. 5, 2009, shootings by Maj. Nidal Hasan were “workplace violence” instead of a terrorist act.
“This is fantastic. This is the greatest day for these victims,” said an upbeat Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, who has worked on legislation to secure the awards since entering Congress in 2013. “It became common sense to call this ‘terrorism.’ From day one, President Barack Obama and the administration didn’t want this to happen, to have an “act of terror” on their watch.”
Williams worked closely on the issue with Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock. Both represent parts of Fort Hood in Central Texas.
“I introduced the first bill on this three weeks after it happened,” Carter said in an interview. “I’m extremely happy for these victims. This guy considered himself a terrorist.”
Hasan was convicted in 2013 by court martial and sentenced to death. He is incarcerated at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
“Since the days following the attack in 2009, the victims, their families, the Fort Hood community and so many of us have recognized that fateful day for what it was: an act of terrorism against our country and against our men and women in uniform,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said in a statement that the awards were long overdue.
“We can never undo the events of that day,” he said, “but we can properly honor the courageous patriots who protect our nation and remain forever grateful for them.”
Under a provision of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015, Congress clarified the eligibility for the Purple Heart by re-defining an attack by a foreign terrorist organization to include an individual who was in touch with those entities or was inspired or motivated by them.
The Defense Department awarded the Purple Heart to service members killed in the 9-11 attacks and created the Defense of Freedom medal for civilian Pentagon workers.
The initial denial angered victims, who noted that the convicted gunman, then-Army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan, said he was inspired by al Qaeda and an anti-American cleric. Hasan has said his attack on unarmed soldiers preparing for deployment was intended to protect Muslim insurgents from American attacks abroad.
“For five years, the White House and the political echelon at the Department of Defense pushed the workplace violence line. And it’s a lie,” said Reed Rubinstein, an attorney for some of the victims. “To admit the truth — that it was a terrorist attack by a jihadist — is a small but important first step toward making the victims whole.”
This report includes material from The Associated Press.