Army and civilian personnel wounded or killed in the November 5 terror attack on Fort Hood were designated combat casualties in House Armed Services Committee action today after seven months of lobbying by House Republican Conference Secretary John Carter, who represents the Fort Hood area in Congress.
The Committee approved a proposal originally authored by Carter as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2011, HR 5136. The measure would grant all casualties of the shooting the same federal benefits and recognition as a soldier or civilian employee of the Department of Defense "killed or wounded in a combat zone as the result of an act of an enemy of the United States."
The status change would make military personnel eligible to receive the Purple Heart under existing eligibility criteria, and civilian employees to receive the Secretary of Defense Medal of Freedom. Combatant status would also guarantee that the beneficiaries of all military personnel who lost their lives in the attack would receive similar insurance, tax, family housing privileges, and other benefits awarded under combat casualty status.
"This is a strong step forward in granting the casualties of the Fort Hood shooting and their families the proper recognition and status they deserve," says Carter. "I am especially pleased that the amendment as passed today by the Committee would make these changes permanent to clarify any questions from these type attacks in the future."
Carter wrote to Committee Members that there was no reason the victims should not have been granted combat status from the start. "Why does it matter if the victims were attacked by an enemy combatant before or after they stepped off the plane? It is abundantly clear that those 13 people were killed and 43 wounded solely because they were preparing to go to war against the shooter's brethren at our nation's request. This common sense amendment will provide the Fort Hood victims with the same benefits we have deemed our combat casualties worthy to receive."
Carter, Co-Chairman of the House Army Caucus, introduced the Fort Hood Families Benefits Protection Act, HR 4088, immediately after the attack in 2009, followed by a joint House-Senate version with Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) in March of this year. He also introduced the Military Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, HR 4267, in December to protect service members from politically-correct disciplinary action for reporting or taking protective steps against radical Islamic threats.
The former Texas judge has worked since the Fort Hood attack to build support for the status change for casualties, gaining 96 bipartisan co-sponsors for the legislation. Today's amendment was offered by Representatives Mike Coffman (R-CO) and Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), and passed by a unanimous voice vote.
Carter continues work with Cornyn to attach the proposal to the Senate version of the Defense Authorization bill, either during Senate consideration of the Authorization or when the two houses meet in conference over a final version later this year. The change would become law after that final version is signed by the President.