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First Purple Heart, now Army orders benefits for Ft. Hood victims

Army to provide all possible benefits to victims of the 2009 attack at Ft. Hood

It looks like the U.S. Army will be providing full medical and financial benefits to Ft. Hood shooting victims who last week were awarded medals following years of lobbying and legal action.

Secretary of the Army John McHugh announced Thursday that he has directed the Army to “provide all possible benefits to victims of a 2009 attack at Ft. Hood who were recently awarded the Purple Heart medal.”

“After making the determination that the victims of the Ft. 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.”

The rampage by Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan was initially considered an incident of workplace violence. Thirteen died and dozens were wounded when Hasan, shouting "God is great!" in Arabic, opened fire at a processing center for military personnel preparing to deploy overseas.

Hasan, who last year said he wanted to become a citizen of Islamic State, was convicted of multiple murder and attempted murder counts and sentenced to death. He remains on military death row at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan.

Last Friday, 36 soldiers and surviving family members of the attack received Purple Hearts during a ceremony at the sprawling Army post in central Texas. The ceremony came after Congress expanded eligibility criteria for the Purple Heart this year.

Among the benefits McHugh has ordered are hostile fire pay for those killed, injured, or wounded in the attack, as well as combat-related special compensation for retired soldiers injured and disabled by the shooting.

McHugh said he has directed a review to determine whether the soldiers are entitled to additional benefits or compensation, with a report due within a month.

Attorneys for the more than 150 victims and relatives who sued the government for full pay and benefits were optimistic that Thursday’s announcement means they will get what they have fought for.

“What I hope and believe is that the announcement today by the Pentagon shows they have changed course,” said Neal Sher, one of the attorneys. "It’s our expectation that this will resolve it and these people will get the benefits. We’re going to be monitoring it and keeping a close eye on it and in touch with members of Congress to make sure this isn’t hocus-pocus and that they follow through.”

In addition to the victims of the Ft. Hood shooting, McHugh’s order applies to victims of a 2009 shooting at a Little Rock, Ark., recruiting station where Muslim convert Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad killed Pvt. William Long and wounded Pvt. Quinton Ezeagwula. Both will also be awarded the Purple Heart under the expanded eligibility criteria.

Muhammad, who had spent time in Yemen and claimed to have been sent by Al Qaeda,  pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to life in prison.

“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,” according to a Thursday statement.

Twitter: @mollyhf

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