The victims of the 2009 Fort Hood shooting that left 13 dead and more than 30 wounded moved closer Friday to receiving the Purple Hearts many say they are due.
Congress passed a defense policy bill Friday evening that includes a provision making victims of the attacks at the Texas Army post eligible for the Purple Heart. The award given to military personnel wounded in battle also offers increased retirement benefits.
The Department of Defense has denied the award to Fort Hood shooting victims, calling the November 2009 attack an act of workplace violence, not terrorism. That distinction has angered victims who say gunman Nidal Hasan committed a terrorist attack inspired by al-Qaida and an anti-American cleric abroad. Many victims still deal with lingering injuries and have struggled to find work after leaving the military.
A provision sponsored by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn R-Texas, requires the Defense Department to define an "international terrorist attack" as one inspired or motivated by a foreign terrorist group.
According to Cornyn's office, the new definition would require the attacker to have been in contact with such a group.
Federal officials have already called Hasan a homegrown violent extremist, and the FBI has released emails Hasan exchanged with a cleric who was killed by an American drone strike in Yemen.
It's unclear when victims might receive Purple Hearts. The Department of Defense is expected to take several months longer to review the Fort Hood cases.
Keely Vanacker, a daughter of Michael Cahill, the lone civilian killed in the attack, said she expected Purple Hearts to move forward once Hasan was convicted and sentenced. Cahill would not be eligible for a Purple Heart, but Cornyn's bill aims to make civilians wounded eligible for the Medal for the Defense of Freedom.
"For some of the wounded that I don't think have really had an opportunity to move on yet and have maybe needed this for some closure, I hope they get their closure from this," Vanacker said in a telephone interview.
Hasan, an Army psychiatrist who later labeled himself a religious warrior, was convicted and sentenced to death in August 2013. He is on death row at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.