The U.S. Army has been approved today to award victims of the 2009 Fort Hood shootings with either a Purple Heart or its civilian counterpart, the Secretary of Defense Medal for the Defense of Freedom.
Thirteen people were killed and more than 30 injured when an officer radicalized by foreign, Islamic terrorists opened fire Nov. 5, 2013 in a medical facility on base.
Approval follows a change in the medals’ eligibility criteria mandated by Congress in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015, which passed the House last May in a 325 to 98 vote.
“The Purple Heart’s strict eligibility criteria had prevented us from awarding it to victims of the horrific attack at Fort Hood,” said Secretary of the Army, John McHugh, in a press statement.
“Now that Congress has changed the criteria, we believe there is sufficient reason to allow these men and women to be awarded and recognized … It’s an appropriate recognition of their service and sacrifice,” he said.
Under a provision of the Act, Congress expanded the eligibility for the Purple Heart by re-defining what should be considered an attack by a “foreign terrorist organization” for purposes of determining eligibility for the Purple Heart.
The legislation states that an event should now be considered an attack by a foreign terrorist organization if the perpetrator of the attack “was in communication with the foreign terrorist organization before the attack” and “the attack was inspired or motivated by the foreign terrorist organization.”
In a review of the Fort Hood incident and the new provisions of law, the Army determined that there was sufficient evidence to conclude that the gunman, Maj. Nidal Hasan, “was in communication with the foreign terrorist organization before the attack,” and that his radicalization and subsequent acts could reasonably be considered to have been “inspired or motivated by the foreign terrorist organization.”
Previous criteria required a finding that Hasan had been acting at the direction of a foreign terrorist organization.
McHugh directed Army officials to identify soldiers and civilians now eligible for the awards as soon as possible, and to contact them about presentation of the awards. Soldiers receiving the Purple Heart automatically qualify for combat-related special compensation upon retirement. Recipients are also eligible for burial at Arlington National Cemetery.
Nidal Hassan was convicted in August 2013, of 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted murder.
Following the conviction, Hasan was sentenced to death by a general court-martial. He is incarcerated at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, while post-trial and appellate processes continue.