A planned April 1 news conference in front of Fort Hood’s main gate had all the ingredients to make a big splash: Two congressmen, a pair of victims from the Fort Hood shooting and media were invited.
But it didn’t happen.
The event — aimed at rebuking the Defense Department’s contention that the Nov. 5, 2009, shooting was “workplace violence” and not an act of terror —was canceled a couple of days prior to April 1.
The reason? Congressmen John Carter, R-Round Rock, and Roger Williams, R-Austin, decided they didn’t want to interfere with the upcoming trial of Maj. Nidal Hasan, which at that time was scheduled to start at the end of May.
“I think that a lot of people felt like the timing might not be right,” Williams said during a visit to the Killeen Daily Herald last week.
Both he and Carter are still pushing Congress to pass the Fort Hood Victims and Families Benefits Protection Act, which would award the military and civilian casualties of the attack the same status that was awarded to the casualties of the Pentagon attack on Sept. 11, 2001. All of the casualties would be eligible for the Purple Heart or the civilian award equivalent.
A Purple Heart carries certain benefits, including exemptions for VA health care copays, government job preference, specialized license plates and, in some cases, free college tuition, according to the Military Order of the Purple Heart.
The stance that the shooting was a form of workplace violence, as the Defense Department contended, is the “wrong assumption,” Williams said, adding he is still dedicated to helping the victims and families.
“We must remain vigilant in our efforts to get the victims and families of the Nov. 5, 2009, attack at Fort Hood the full benefits they need and deserve,” Carter said Wednesday in a statement. “I am working with several of my colleagues in Congress, on both sides of the aisle, who have agreed to join our fight for benefits. As soon as Major Hasan’s trial begins, we plan on implementing a communication and legislative plan that will help support the victims and their families.”
Joining the fight
In May, three other congressmen joined the fight to reclassify the shooting as an act of terrorism.
Reps. Tom Rooney, R-Fla.; Chaka Fattah, D-Pa.; and Frank Wolf, R-Va., sent a letter to the secretary of defense, accusing the Defense Department of “political correctness.”
The letter stated preferential treatment of accused Fort Hood shooter, Maj. Nidal Hasan, from the Army and the FBI resulted from political sensitivities.
Several victims of the shooting and their families sued the government over the issue, seeking millions in damages. That group — dubbed the Coalition of Fort Hood Heroes — released two videos urging the government to change its stance, which would allow former Army Reserve and National Guard soldiers injured in the shooting to receive full medical benefits. Many are still dealing with health and mental problems from the attack.
The effort to reclassify has support in the U.S. Senate, as well.
During a trip to Fort Hood last week, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, spoke on the issue.
“I think the classification of that shooting as workplace violence is indefensible,” Cruz said. “In my view, it was an act of terrorism. I’m confident the justice system will work and will yield the right result based on the evidence. I don’t think we should live in a politically correct way in a politically correct world where we refuse to call terrorism what it is.”
Despite a new secretary of defense taking office in February, there has been no indication the Defense Department may reverse its classification of the shooting.
But an act of Congress is in the works.