Officials from the Military Order of the Purple Heart want lawmakers to drop plans to give the battlefield award to the six service members who died in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, saying it waters down the criteria for the honor.
A provision tucked into the House draft of the 2016 defense authorization bill would posthumously grant the Purple Heart to two airmen, two soldiers and two Marines who were at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building when a truck bomb was detonated outside. All six were killed in the attack, along with 162 others.
Officials from the veterans service organization released a statement Wednesday calling the attack a tragic moment in American history but said it had "nothing to do with combat on the battlefield or international terrorism," making the fallen troops ineligible for the award.
"The criteria for award of the Purple Heart medal has been constant and clear — it is awarded only to those who are killed or wounded in combat," the group said in a statement.
Ignoring those rules "would cheapen the intent and importance of the Purple Heart medal and denigrate its meaning for those who have received it for their sacrifices."
The provision is not included in the Senate draft of the defense bill. House and Senate negotiators are meeting this week to hammer out a compromise version of the bill that they hope to finalize later this month.
MOPH officials said they supported those past moves because "these incidents were clearly inspired or motivated by international terrorist organizations."
The Oklahoma City attack, carried out by disgruntled American citizens, does not match that same criteria, they argued.
The provision was introduced in May by Rep. Steve Russell, R-Okla., who noted the troops killed were working as military recruiters at the time of the attack, making them worthy of being honored with the award.
Since then, leaders of the MOPH have pushed for removal of the language. They said they hope negotiators will be more critical in their analysis of the attack during this round of legislative work.
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.