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2013-09-26

Bill to correct inequities at Fort Hood shooting

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

United States Senator John Cornyn recently brought before the Senate legislation that would honor and support the victims of the Nov. 5, 2009, Fort Hood shooting. He was joined in introducing the Honoring the Fort Hood Heroes Act by original cosponsors, US Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Texas' Ted Cruz and Jerry Moran of Kansas.
A companion version of the Honoring the Fort Hood Heroes Act has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Texas' US Representatives John R. Carter and Roger Williams.
"The wheels of justice have turned too slowly for the victims of the terrorist attack at Fort Hood four years ago. We must direct our attention to the people who deserve it, and that is the victims and their families. As a nation, we have a sacred obligation to take care of them," Cornyn said.
"This attack should rightly be categorized as an act of terrorism, and I believe strongly that service members wounded or killed at Fort Hood, or as a result of a terror attack irrespective of geographic location, are deserving of the same recognition and benefits as their deployed counterparts in combat zones," said Collins. While serving as the Ranking Member of the Homeland Security Committee, Collins completed an investigation into the shootings with then-chairman, Senator Joe Lieberman.
Michele Vannote, sister of Fort Hood victim, Capt. John P. Gaffaney, said, "This is the additional piece of the actual justice due - beyond the conviction and sentencing of Nidal Hasan. The latter was really about 'one person.' However, the greater justice required in this case, in my opinion, is that all those victims - still having the possibility of 'life after Hasan' - do greatly deserve this final act of justice served to them."
Because the attack took place on US soil rather than in a designated combat zone, the victims of the Fort Hood terrorist attack have not received the same awards and benefits as their deployed counterparts who are wounded or killed either through enemy action or a terrorist attack. The Honoring the Fort Hood Heroes Act would correct this inequity and provide these benefits to the Fort Hood victims.
According to Rep. Williams, President Barack Obama erred when he placed an inordinate amount of importance on political correctness. "As a consequence, the victims have been neglected. The Fort Hood Heroes Act will restore the benefits, treatment and honor these men and women so rightly deserve," Williams said.
As the Courier reported in May 2013, federal officials repeatedly refused to declare Hasan a "terrorist," pointing out that there is no crime of "terrorism" under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. To the chagrin of many, it was contended that simply charging Hasan with murder would lead to the same outcome in the courtroom.
However, witnesses interviewed at the time of the incident said the gunman shouted, "Allahu Akbar" - Arabic for "God is great" - before opening fire in a crowded processing facility.
Throughout the trial, Hasan never denied being the shooter. He attempted to explain his lethal action, saying in his opening statement that after eventually realizing he was "on the wrong side" of the war, he switched sides, considering himself a mujahedeen.
The "Honoring the Fort Hood Heroes Act" declares that
• the attack constituted an act of terrorism, not merely workplace violence;
• the US Government has a fundamental duty to the troops to safeguard them against avoidable harm, and the Fort Hood attack could and should have been prevented;
• the perpetrator, Nidal Hasan, had become radicalized while serving in the US Army and was principally motivated to attack by an ideology of violent Islamist extremism; and
• Hasan proved himself to be not just a terrorist, but also a traitor and an enemy of the US.
In addition, the bill would require the Secretary of the Army to award Purple Hearts to soldiers who were killed or wounded in the attack, and require the Secretary of Defense to award the Secretary of Defense Medal for the Defense of Freedom - Purple Heart equivalent for civilians - to civilians who were killed or wounded.
Under this legislation, victims and families of victims of the Fort Hood terrorist attack would also be eligible for benefits that have been withheld from them, including:
• Combat-related special compensation;
• Maximum coverage under Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance;
• Tax breaks after death in combat zone or terrorist attack;
• Special pay for subjection to hostile fire or imminent danger;
• Combat-related injury rehabilitation pay; and
• Meals at military treatment facilities.
When Hasan was convicted of all charges - 12 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder - on August 23, Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson announced the State of Texas would treat the families of those killed in the attack as though their spouses had been killed in combat.
"This wasn't workplace violence. These were casualties of war and we're going to change the rules to give these families full access to Veterans Land Board (VLB) benefits," said Patterson, who also serves as VLB chairman. "We'll let the lawyers work out the details, but I intend to make sure we honor their sacrifice."
To qualify for VLB benefits, veterans must be honorably discharged, must have served at least 90 days of active duty and must reside in Texas.