Victims of the 2009 Fort Hood shootings will be eligible to receive Purple Hearts and combat injury benefits under a provision included in the latest defense authorization deal.
The measure is expected to be approved by Congress next week, and would end a five-year quest by Texas lawmakers to get battlefield recognition for the soldiers killed in the deadliest attack on a domestic military installation in U.S. history.
It could also be a financial windfall for the families of the 13 people killed and 32 wounded in the attack.
The latest authorization draft stipulates that Purple Heart medals will be awarded to "members of the armed forces killed or wounded in domestic attacks inspired by foreign terrorist organizations."
The Fort Hood, Texas, shooter — Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan — was allegedly inspired by al-Qaida but faced murder charges rather than international terrorism charges. He was convicted and sentenced to death.
Pentagon officials for years have said the shooting victims are not eligible for the Purple Heart and certain combat-injury compensation. Families of the victims have said they've faced thousands of dollars in uncovered medical expenses that would have been covered if the same injuries occurred in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The new Purple Heart regulations would change that, allowing defense officials to review the cases and award both the medal and the benefits to the Fort Hood victims as well as victims of similar domestic attacks.
House members have included the Purple Heart changes in their annual defense budget bills each of the last five years, but Pentagon and Senate leaders have blocked the moves. Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, who helped lead the push, said the new language was crafted with Senate cooperation and input from the military.
"This is finally going to be a recognition for their losses and injuries," he said. "For many of these soldiers, that medal is going to mean the most. They feel like they were attacked by the enemy. It just happened at their base, instead of overseas."
Regulations regarding who gets a Purple Heart — traditionally limited to those wounded in combat — have been debated in recent years amid ambiguity surrounding domestic attacks.
Troops injured at the Pentagon in the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001, received it. Two Army recruiters shot by a radicalized Muslim outside of a recruiting station in Little Rock, Arkansas, in June 2009 did not.
The defense bill is expected to be passed by the House this week and considered by the Senate next week. The White House has threatened a veto on unrelated topics in the bill, but has not followed through on similar threats in recent years.
Andrew Tilghman is the executive editor for Military Times. He is a former Military Times Pentagon reporter and served as a Middle East correspondent for the Stars and Stripes. Before covering the military, he worked as a reporter for the Houston Chronicle in Texas, the Albany Times Union in New York and The Associated Press in Milwaukee.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.