As recently as April of last year, the White House callously rejected a request from the survivors of the 2009 Fort Hood attack to meet with the Barack Obama.
They were hoping to explain to the president their plight, and it is a traumatic one. Major Nidal Hasan killed 13 in the attack on his fellow soldiers inspired by Islamic radicalism, but he left behind 32 wounded survivors. Those victims have struggled to pay for medical care and have been denied the benefits provided to veterans wounded in combat. “This is largely because of how the incident has been labeled,” read a report in Mother Jones.
In 2012, nearly 150 Fort Hood victims and their family members filed suit against the Department of Defense, seeking compensation for their suffering and lost benefits. But the case has bogged down, and the Senate has balked at passing legislation that would give victims of the 2009 shooting the same benefits as soldiers killed or wounded in combat or terrorism attacks.
Perhaps most gallingly, the Pentagon refused for years to provide those who were wounded in that attacks with the Purple Heart, a medal recognizing that a veteran’s status as having been wounded in the line of duty. According to a Defense Department memo obtained by the press in 2013, to award the victims of the Fort Hood attack a Purple Heart would “irrevocably alter the fundamental character of this time-honored decoration” and “undermine the prosecution of Major Nidal Hasan [the alleged Fort Hood shooter] by materially and directly compromising Major Hasan’s ability to receive a fair trial.”
“Despite extensive evidence that Hasan was in communication with al Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki prior to the attack, the military has denied the victims a Purple Heart and has treated the incident as ‘workplace violence’ instead of ‘combat related’ or terrorism,” ABC News reported in 2013.
On Friday, the Pentagon changed its tune. After the U.S. Senate passed the Defense Reauthorization bill in December that included a provision reclassifying the Fort Hood attack an act of domestic terrorism rather than anodyne and non-specific “workplace violence,” it freed the Pentagon’s hand to honor the attack’s wounded veterans in a way they deserve.
“The Purple Heart’s strict eligibility criteria had prevented us from awarding it to victims of the horrific attack at Fort Hood,” read a written statement released by Secretary of the Army John McHugh. “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, for civilians, the Defense of Freedom medal.”
According to Fox News, however, the administration lobbied against honoring Fort Hood’s wounded veterans up until the very last minute.
Earlier this year, a lawyer for victims of the shooting and their families told Fox News that some victims are still so damaged physically and mentally they are unable to work five years after the massacre — and the benefits that come with the Purple Heart would be a lifeline.
“No one will be the same,” attorney Neal Sher told Fox News last month.
Sher told Fox News in January there was stiff resistance to the new congressional language requiring a review of Purple Heart consideration. “The administration and the Pentagon,” Sher explained, “they lobbied hard against it. But we worked very hard and we were successful in garnering bi-partisan support for this.”
According to a December public opinion poll, only 15 percent of active-duty American service members told Military Times pollsters they approved of the job the president was doing in office. Gosh, you just wonder why.