As victims and families are honored Friday for the sacrifices they made in the 2009 Fort Hood shooting, some say the Department of Defense is ignoring soldiers who died from invisible wounds suffered that day.
The Defense Department is awarding 47 Purple Hearts and Defense of Freedom Medals, the latter being the civilian equivalent of the Purple Heart, to victims and the families of those who were killed in the shooting. The event holds special meaning to some, as it ends a years-long battle to classify the shooting as a terrorist attack, not workplace violence.
But for others, the battle is far from over.
“I will always have an empty chair at my table,” said Harold Berry, the father of a solider stationed at the Texas base at the time of the shooting. “A Purple Heart isn’t going to bring him back, but it would help my family have some closure.”
Mr. Berry’s son, Army Staff Sgt. Joshua Berry, committed suicide in February 2013. While he suffered a shoulder injury in the shootout on that November day in 2009, his father said it was the mental wounds sustained during the shooting that left a lasting impact and led to his death from PTSD.
The younger Berry won’t be honored at tomorrow’s ceremony.
A little more than five years ago, Army Maj. Nidal Hasan opened fire at Fort Hood, killing 13 and wounding more than 30. While the Obama administration classified the shooting as workplace violence for years, victims and their advocates in Congress pressed the administration to recategorize it as a terrorist attack since Hasan shouted “Allahu akbar,” Arabic for “God is great,” during the attack. An FBI investigation also found Hasan had been communicating with al Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki prior to the attack.
“I talked to him [Joshua] the night before the shooting. The guy I talked to after the shooting was not the same person, and he never was,” Mr. Berry said in an interview with The Washington Times. “I watched my son suffer terribly. In addition to the physical injury he sustained during shooting, he had mental anguish to deal with.”
The Purple Heart is awarded to service members who were wounded or died from wounds inflicted by an enemy, according to the Army Human Resources Command. The criteria state that one of the biggest factors in receiving the award, in addition to participating in combat operations, is the degree to which the wound was caused by the enemy.
As a result, bullet wounds, injuries from biological or chemical weapons and concussions from enemy-generated explosions all qualify for the Purple Heart.
Frostbite, food poisoning, PTSD and most self-inflicted wounds do not merit the Purple Heart, the website says.
There’s resistance among those who have received the Purple Heart to changing the criteria to include PTSD, said John Bircher, a spokesman for the Military Order of the Purple Heart, an organization for recipients of the medal.
“We believe strongly in and support the criteria that the wound or death should be sustained in combat at the hands of the enemies of the United States,” he said in a statement. “All that said, we definitely share the sadness of this father for his son, and all the sons and daughters who gave their life in their service.”
And even as lawmakers tout the importance of better mental health services for troops to end the suicide problem, Mr. Berry has found them unwilling to help him get recognition for these invisible wounds of war in his lobbying of Congress during multiple trips to D.C.
Wayne Hall, a spokesman for the Army, said the service “determined who was entitled to receive the Purple Heart as a result of the Nov. 5, 2009, shooting at Fort Hood based on a thorough review of available medical information, witness statements, open source documentation and casualty reports.”
Berry, who was medically retired after serving nine years in the Army, suffered from PTSD that stemmed from being attacked on U.S. soil by an American officer, making his experience unique from those who suffer PTSD in battle, his father said while testifying before Congress in 2013. The soldier sought help at the Cincinnati VA but failed to get the care he needed.
“The psychiatrist’s answer there was, ‘We’ll give you some more medication to help you,’ and [Berry] said, ‘I don’t want to be medicated; I need help,’” said Bob Woods, president of the Ohio Patriot Guard Riders. “He said, ‘I’m not taking anymore drugs,’ and they said, ‘Well, we don’t know what to do for you,’ so he went home and killed himself.”
The group attends military funerals to ensure grieving families aren’t bothered by protesters. Mr. Woods contacted the elder Mr. Berry after his son’s death to attend the funeral with the group and has become close friends with Mr. Berry through his struggle to get his son the recognition he thinks he deserves.
“They don’t think we should have that medal, because they don’t think we have been wounded. Well, I beg to differ,” said Mr. Woods, who is a Vietnam-era veteran who suffers from PTSD himself.