WASHINGTON — Five years after the 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, a new push is underway to make the victims eligible for the Purple Heart.
But the idea is drawing opposition from, among others, a group representing Purple Heart recipients, who liken the attack to workplace violence rather than combat.
The drive to recognize Fort Hood victims with the Purple Heart is being driven by Texans in Congress.
“As we know too well, the battlefield in the war on terror is not limited to foreign lands,” said Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, who sought the legislation. Another Texas Republican, Rep. John Carter, whose district includes Fort Hood, said the legislation would provide “the benefits, the recognition, and hopefully some closure to the victims and their families.”
The Purple Heart is awarded to members of the military killed or wounded in combat. The House Armed Services Committee this week included in a broad defense bill a measure that would make members of the military eligible for the medal if killed or wounded in an attack “inspired of motivated” by a U.S. State Department-designated foreign terrorist organization.
According to a Pentagon spokesman, Purple Hearts may be awarded to military personnel killed or wounded as a result of an “international terrorist attack.”
But intelligence reports, investigations and studies found that Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan acted as a “lone wolf,” the spokesman said.
“While there has been no intelligence or findings to date that indicate Hasan was under the direction or control of a foreign element, we stand ready to act accordingly should any evidence to the contrary be presented,” the spokesman added.
The Defense Department previously expressed concern about such legislation while Hasan was on trial for the killing of 13 people and the wounding of more than 30. But the Army psychiatrist was convicted and sentenced to death in August for the attack.
Prospects for the legislation remain uncertain in the Senate. The Senate Armed Services Committee is expected to consider the issue this month. Separate from that measure, Sen. John Cornyn introduced a bill called the Honoring the Fort Hood Heroes Act. It has drawn only 15 co-sponsors, all fellow Republicans.
The issue has divided veterans groups.
The American Legion passed a resolution last year calling for the 2009 shootings to be classified as an act of terrorism and for the soldiers killed or wounded to be awarded “all honors and benefits due to battlefield combat,” spokesman Marty Callaghan said.
Veterans of Foreign Wars found in an informal survey of 726 of its members a “deep divide between Purple Heart recipients and non-recipients” of any proposed change to the criteria for awarding the medal, and as a result, opposes any change, said spokesman Joe Davis.
But the Military Order of the Purple Heart, an organization of about 45,000 Purple Heart recipients, opposes authorizing the medal for those attacked by “one of their fellow soldiers at Fort Hood, which was clearly a case of ‘workplace violence,’ ” the group said in a statement.
The Purple Heart, among the nation’s most revered military honors, dates to 1782, when Gen. George Washington created the Badge of Military Merit. The medal, which features a likeness of Washington, fell into disuse after the Revolutionary War but was brought back in 1932.
Purple Hearts were awarded to military victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The 9/11 attacks were “clearly terrorist acts perpetrated by an organized foreign terrorist group,” according to the Military Order of the Purple Heart.
But the group said the criteria should not be changed because of the shootings at Fort Hood and a military recruiting station in Little Rock, Ark., to “accommodate these clearly criminal actions.”
A defense bill approved last year directed the Pentagon to review whether members of the military killed or wounded in the Fort Hood and Little Rock shootings qualify for the Purple Heart “under the criteria as members of the armed forces who were killed or wounded as a result of an act of an enemy of the United States.”
A report is expected in late June.
Fort Hood victims and family members have filed suit against the U.S. government, seeking damages for deaths and injuries and to have the shootings designated as a terrorist attack.
Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, said in written testimony recently submitted to the House Armed Services Committee that Hasan made clear “beyond a shadow of a doubt that his intent was to harm and kill U.S. soldiers in efforts to aid America’s enemies.”
Separately, a spending bill headed for a House vote would require the Justice Department to report on its role in advising the Defense Department to investigate and prosecute the Fort Hood shootings as “workplace violence” instead of terrorism.
In April, Fort Hood was the scene of another shooting rampage. Spc. Ivan Lopez shot and killed three fellow soldiers before committing suicide.