Six years after the Nov. 5, 2009, shooting at Fort Hood, at least one victim is still fighting for overdue benefits.
Former Fort Hood Staff Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford Jr. said “pain, betrayal, disrespect and patriotism” all come to mind when he thinks about that tragic day.
“It’s a lot. It’s really a lot that goes through my head,” Lunsford said Tuesday.
He was shot seven times by Nidal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist who opened fire on unsuspecting fellow soldiers at a Fort Hood medical processing building for deploying soldiers.
Six years later, the building has been torn down. Many of the soldiers who were there have since moved on — either no longer in Army or stationed elsewhere.
Hasan, an Army major at the time of the shooting, was found guilty of killing 12 soldiers and one civilian on Aug. 23, 2013, following a 12-day court-martial at Fort Hood. Days later, he was sentenced to die and is currently on death row at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., awaiting automatic appeals.
The victims’ long fight for benefits came to a significant turning point earlier this year when the victims were awarded Purple Hearts — a medal traditionally awarded for combat-related injuries. The Purple Hearts signified a reversal
of sorts for the Defense Department, which until then had classified the shooting as workplace violence.
Receiving the Purple Hearts “was well-deserved,” Lunsford said.
“It was a good fight. We won that battle, so I’m thankful for that.”
But the award doesn’t erase the tragedy today’s anniversary marks. For Lunsford, the memories remain.
“It won’t make it easier,” he said.
Now living in North Carolina, Lunsford is still fighting some of the battles that began six years ago. He said he’s still waiting on back pay for the combat-related special compensation the Department of Veterans Affairs owes him as a result of injuries suffered in the shooting, and also feels he’s “in a holding pattern” waiting to find out when he, along with other shooting victims, will receive the Texas Purple Heart award.
A bill approved by the Texas Legislature and signed by Gov. Greg Abbott in May allowed for all the soldiers or former service members who received a federal Purple Heart from the Nov. 5, 2009, shooting to also be awarded a Texas Purple Heart, a ceremonial medal that does not carry any added benefits, state officials said Wednesday.
A spokesman for Abbott’s office said there was a plan to award the state Purple Hearts today, but that plan was postponed after Killeen city officials asked the state government to delay the ceremony.
“First, they said they were going to bring us down there because the state was going to give us a Purple Heart, then they said they weren’t. I’m trying to figure out what’s going on,” Lunsford said.
Killeen spokeswoman Hilary Shine confirmed Wednesday the city has been working with the governor’s office on the Texas Purple Heart ceremony, but it’s been delayed because of ongoing construction of the Fort Hood Shooting Memorial in Killeen, which honors the 13 people who died.
“We want the family members of the victims and the victims who live out of state to have an opportunity to come to see the memorial and receive their (Texas) Purple Heart,” she said. “So, we’re working with the governor’s office on a date that will accommodate both ceremonies.”
Shine said the city thinks there will be better attendance if the two ceremonies are rolled into one event.
“Originally, the hope was that we could do both on Nov. 5 (today). ... But the construction would not be complete at that time,” Shine said.
Now, the tentative date for the ribbon-cutting of the memorial and the presentation of the Texas Purple Hearts is March 11.
State Sen. Troy Fraser, whose district covers Fort Hood, helped get legislation passed for the Texas Purple Hearts.
“I filed and passed legislation to award the Texas Purple Heart to service members who were killed or wounded during that fateful attack,” Fraser said in a statement to the Herald. “The bill ... recognizes that these warriors came under fire in service of their country. I look forward to the presentation of the medal to surviving veterans and families at the unveiling of the Fort Hood Shooting Memorial, to be located in Killeen. The memorial will serve a fitting tribute to the sacrifice of so many.”
Fraser also spoke about the sixth anniversary of the attack.
“Today, let us be especially mindful of the sacrifices made by those servicemen and women killed or wounded during that attack. Though years have passed since that day, their courage and commitment to their country have not been forgotten. Their bravery and heroism will be recognized and remembered for many years to come.”
Abbott echoed those words.
“Six years ago today, 13 of our brave men and women in uniform were senselessly killed in an act of terror on U.S. soil,” Abbott said in a statement to the Herald. “We must never forget the ultimate sacrifice these thirteen soldiers gave in service to our nation. Today, I ask all my fellow Texans and Americans to keep the victims of the Fort Hood terror attack in their thoughts and prayers as we remember those who put their lives on the line at home and abroad to protect the freedoms we hold dear.”
U.S. Reps. John Carter, R-Round Rock, and Roger Williams, R-Austin, both were instrumental in getting a federal bill passed that declared the Fort Hood shooting as a terrorist attack, paving the way for the federal Purple Hearts to be awarded in April. Neither of their offices on Wednesday said they know of an ongoing fight for benefits from the victims, although many of the victims now live outside of the Texas districts.
Carter said he was honored to work with his colleagues in Congress to get the bill passed that paved the way for the federal Purple Hearts.
“It was a hard-fought battle against the Obama administration, but in the end, justice prevailed,” Carter said in a statement to the Herald. “This was a case of terrorism, not workplace violence, and the victims and their families earned the Purple Heart, and all their benefits. More is still to be done, and I will continue to work to ensure the memorial we have planned for the victims is completed and dedicated, as they rightfully deserve.”
Williams spoke on the resiliency of the Fort Hood community.
“Six years ago, the Great Place witnessed an unspeakable tragedy,” Williams said in statement to the Herald. “I can say firsthand, the Fort Hood community is as resilient, yet compassionate, as they come — they look out for their own. ... Together, every year we will mourn this day, and together, we will always honor and cherish the memories of those brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Though Fort Hood holds painful memories for Lunsford, he said he wants to extend gratitude to the surrounding community.
“I appreciate all the love and support they’ve been giving us throughout this whole ordeal,” he said.