Survivors and relatives of those who died in the 2009 Fort Hood shooting filed a formal petition Wednesday to receive Purple Hearts and other benefits they have argued are long overdue.
More than five years after an Army psychiatrist opened fire on dozens of unarmed soldiers and killed 13 people, many survivors struggle to find jobs or support themselves. Congress approved new regulations in December aimed at forcing the U.S. Department of Defense to reconsider Fort Hood victims for the Purple Heart.
Wednesday's petition aims to start that process. Lawyers for a large group of victims and family members entered the petition in an ongoing federal lawsuit they filed against the Defense Department seeking damages due to the attack.
Military officials have denied the award to Fort Hood victims, calling the November 2009 attack an act of workplace violence, not terrorism. Advocates for the victims have pointed to gunman Nidal Hasan's attempts to contact a cleric that authorities have linked to al-Qaida, as well as statements Hasan made before and after the attack calling himself a "soldier of Allah" fighting America.
Hasan was convicted in August 2013 and sentenced to death.
The petition names the victims of the attack and describes each survivor's injuries and financial struggles.
Staff Sgt. Shawn Manning, shot six times by Hasan, still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and severe pain, according to the petition. Sgt. Rex Stalnaker, who helped pull soldiers to safety and was deployed to Afghanistan soon afterward, is "70 percent disabled and unemployable," the petition says.
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It will likely take at least several months for the Defense Department to decide on the request. If approved, some victims and their families could receive hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of payments and added benefits, though others would receive smaller amounts based on the severity of their injuries, said Reed Rubinstein, a Washington-based attorney for a large group of victims and family members.
"It's going to be a little bit different for each individual, but it's going to have tremendous impact and a very positive impact on every one of the victims' lives," Rubinstein said.
Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a Defense Department spokesman, said officials will review the Fort Hood shooting and other incidents that may now be eligible for Purple Hearts.
"We anticipate a determination on all such incidents, including the attack at Fort Hood in 2009, in the near future," he said in an email.