Members of Congress said this week they’ll renew a push to designate the November 2009 Fort Hood shootings as part of the battle against terrorism, which would make the victims eligible for Purple Hearts and open up more benefits for those killed or wounded.
The Obama administration has designated the deadly attack as an act of “workplace violence,” rejecting critics who note that convicted shooter Nidal Hasan, an Army major and psychiatrist, openly acknowledged his ties to radical Islamist elements as his motivation.
The bill’s co-authors, Texas Republicans Reps. John R. Carter and Roger Williams, said that they plan to introduce the “Honoring the Fort Hood Heroes Act” as soon as Congress returns to Washington next week. They announced the bill in Texas on Monday with Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican who is introducing a companion bill in the Senate.
And they’ve already won support from outside their home state, with Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican, saying Tuesday he’ll sign onto the bill.
“This was a terrorist attack, this was not workplace violence. To call it workplace violence is a form of political correctness gone awry,” Mr. Wolf said.
Hasan was convicted last month of killing 13 and wounding more than 30 when he went on a shooting spree in 2009 on the base near Killeen, Texas, shouting “Allahu akbar,” Arabic for “God is great,” before opening fire. He was sentenced to the death penalty on Aug. 28, though it’s expected the appeals process will last years if not decades.
Since the attack, investigations revealed that the FBI knew Hasan was in email contact with Anwar al-Awlaki, an al Qaeda leader who was killed in a 2011 drone strike in Yemen. During his trial, the American-born Muslim stated that he was a soldier who had “switched sides” and that his goal in killing American soldiers was to protect Islamic insurgents abroad.
Some administration critics have speculated that the Defense Department classified the attack as workplace violence so as to not contradict statements by President Obama and others that al Qaeda’s worldwide influence was dwindling since Mr. Obama took office.
However, this time Mr. Carter said he is “very optimistic” that the bill will gain widespread support in Congress. Because the trial has wrapped up, he does not anticipate the same pushback he got from the Pentagon the last time he introduced a similar bill. Mr. Carter said he expects to get more than 200 co-signers on the bill and Mr. Williams agrees that the bill should appeal to representatives on both sides of the aisle.
“It’s totally bipartisan, we should have no problem getting it on the president’s desk,” Mr. Williams said. “We need to move forward to get these victims and their families taken care of, remind them we love them, remind them that we appreciate their service and that we haven’t forgotten about them like I’m afraid this administration has.”
The bill would provide benefits retroactive to the date of the attack, including combat-related special compensation, life insurance, tax breaks, combat-related injury rehabilitation pay and meals at military treatment facilities. The bill would also require Purple Hearts to be awarded to soldiers who were killed or wounded in the attack and the Medal for the Defense of Freedom to be awarded to civilians who were killed or wounded.
Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, also voiced his support for the victims of the attack, sending a letter to Army Secretary John McHugh on Tuesday to request a review of the attack to determine if victims are eligible for the Purple Heart.
“The evidence presented during the court-martial established beyond any doubt that this was not ‘workplace violence’; it was a terrorist attack,” Mr. Inhofe wrote in the letter. “The tragic deaths and injuries were conducted with premeditation by Major Hasan who publicly declared he had ‘switched sides’ in the ongoing conflict and joined the enemies of the United States.”
A spokesman for the senator declined to comment on Mr. Inhofe’s position on Mr. Cornyn’s bill at this time.