By Debbie Gregory.
November 5, 2009 is a day that will always live in the memory of anyone who was based at Fort Hood. That fateful Thursday, former Maj. Nidal Hasan entered his workplace, the Soldier Readiness Processing Center, and opened fire on its occupants. Hasan was convicted of 13 counts of premeditated murder for the thirteen lives lost that day, and a further 32 counts of attempted murder for the 32 people wounded in the attack.
The victims of the shooting, named the deadliest attack on a U.S. military installation, were awarded the Purple Heart on April 10th. Now the Army is providing all possible benefits to the victims.
The announcement came from Army Secretary John McHugh, who said, “I intend to ensure that the soldiers receiving the Purple Heart under the expanded criteria also receive all other related benefits for which they are eligible.”
McHugh has ordered the payment of hostile fire pay for those Purple Heart recipients “killed, injured, or wounded” in the attack, as well as combat-related special compensation for retired soldiers whose disability is attributable to an injury for which they were awarded the Purple Heart.
“After making the determination that the victims of the Fort Hood attack are now eligible for the Purple Heart, it seems only right and fair that these soldiers also receive the benefits it traditionally entails,” McHugh said. “That’s why I directed an expedited process to make certain that happens.”
After a years-long battle by the victims and their families in the aftermath of the shooting, McHugh and Congress made a decision to change the medal’s eligibility criteria.
“The Purple Heart’s strict eligibility criteria has prevented us from awarding it to victims of the horrific attack at Fort Hood,” McHugh said in a statement at the time.
The change in critera and eligibility wasn’t only mandated for those involved in the Fort Hood attack. The change has allowed Pvt. William Long and Pvt. Quinton Ezeagwula to each be awarded the Purple Heart. Pvt Long was killed and Pvt. Ezeagwula was severely wounded when Abdulhakim Muhammad opened fire on a Little Rock, Arkansas recruiting station, where the soldiers were standing outside. The two were part of a recruiting program called “hometown recruiting assistance,” under which soldiers tell their stories to potential recruits.
Muhammad was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The Army is continuing to look into whether there are other soldiers previously determined to be ineligible for the Purple Heart who may now qualify under the expanded criteria.
“Now that Congress has changed the criteria, we believe here is sufficient reason to allow these men and women to be awarded and recognized with either the Purple Heart or, in the case of civilians, the Defense of Freedom medal,” McHugh said.
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Military Connection: Victims of Ft. Hood Shooting Receive Benefits: By Debbie Gregory