In introducing the Honoring the Fort Hood Heroes Act last week, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn noted “the wheels of justice have turned too slowly for the victims of the terrorist attack at Fort Hood four years ago.”
Indeed, the survivors and victims’ families of the Nov. 5, 2009, shooting on post have suffered greatly in the time it took to bring Nidal Hasan to trial, convict him on 13 counts of murder and sentence him to death.
During this period they have also been denied benefits because the shooting was classified as workplace violence and not a terrorist act.
The proposed measure aims to rectify those issues — and it’s likely to gain overwhelming, bipartisan support in Congress.
But in some ways, it seems like the legislative equivalent of a makeup call in a sporting event.
In hindsight, the government’s classification of Hasan’s rampage as workplace violence was ludicrous. As eyewitnesses stated even before the trial, Hasan — an American-born Muslim — shouted “Allahu Akbar” as he began shooting at the Soldier Readiness Processing Center and appeared calm throughout the attack.
This was terrorism — pure and simple.
Whether it was a bad case of political correctness gone awry or concern over tainting the case by using the “t word” before it went to trial, the “workplace violence” label was no doubt both infuriating and insulting to those who lost loved ones in the shooting spree.
As testimony and evidence bore out during the trial, Hasan’s attack fit the definition of terrorism on several levels. And his unanimous conviction and sentencing by a 13-member military jury left no doubt as to that interpretation.
Cornyn’s legislation — which will be mirrored by a bill offered in the House by Central Texas Reps. John Carter and Roger Williams — reclassifies the shooting as terrorism and authorizes additional benefits for the shooting victims’ families and survivors.
In addition, the act also would require the secretary of the Army to award Purple Hearts to the soldiers killed or wounded in the attack, and require the Defense secretary to award the Secretary of Defense Medal for the Defense of Freedom to civilians who were killed or wounded.
Cornyn, R-Texas, noted that the bill is not political, but this legislation does contain one pointed declaration: “the U.S. Government has a fundamental duty to our troops to safeguard them against avoidable harm, and the Fort Hood attack could and should have been prevented.”
It further declares that Hasan became radicalized while serving in the Army and was motivated to attack by violent Islamic extremism. It also states he is not just a terrorist, but an enemy of the United States and a traitor.
No doubt these strong statements ring true for the survivors and families of those Hasan killed four years ago. But including them in the bill seems to be of questionable value — other than to make political points.
Of greater importance are the benefits that would be awarded the victims’ families and survivors.
Those include combat-related special compensation, maximum coverage under Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance, tax breaks, special pay for subjection to hostile fire or imminent danger, combat-related injury rehabilitation pay, and meals at military treatment facilities.
The Army has not provided a cost estimate of the bill, but considering the relatively small number of people who would qualify, it should hardly be an issue.
At first glance, some might view the Honoring Fort Hood Heroes Act as symbolic, “feel-good” legislation.
But it’s more than that. Given our obligation to recognize and support this brave group of service members and their families, it doesn’t simply feel good. It feels right as well.