Fort Hood shooting victims seek added benefits

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Nearly three years after the Fort Hood shooting, a group of soldiers and their families is pressing the Department of Defense to make victims of the rampage eligible for the Purple Heart and other benefits.

About 160 people affected by the Nov. 5, 2009, shooting released a video this week describing the attack on the sprawling Texas Army post.

"The victims are being forgotten and it's frustrating," Kimberly Munley, one of the first two officers who arrived at the shooting scene, told The Associated Press.

Maj. Nidal Hasan, an American-born Muslim who officials believe was inspired by a radical Islamic cleric, faces the death penalty if convicted of 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in the attack.

While several government reports have described the rampage as an act of terrorism, soldiers and their relatives say the only way Fort Hood victims and their families will get the same benefits as troops killed or injured in combat is if the defense secretary specifically designates the shooting a "terrorist attack."

Pentagon press secretary George Little said Friday that the Department of Defense "will not, at this time, further characterize" the shooting because it is committed to the integrity of the ongoing court-martial proceedings against Hasan. There are concerns that formally changing the designation could affect the legal proceedings.

Little said survivors of the shooting are "eligible for the same medical benefits as any service member."

Staff Sgt. Shawn Manning, who was shot six times that day, said his injuries prevented him from continuing to serve. But he won't receive the same benefits as those severely wounded on the battlefield because an Army medical evaluation board didn't deem his injuries to be combat-related, he said.

An October 2011 letter on behalf of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was sent to U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, saying "the department is dealing with the threat of violent Islamist extremism in the context of a broader threat of workplace violence."

But the National Counterterrorism Center's 2009 Report on Terrorism called the Fort Hood shooting a "high fatality terrorist attack." The shooting also was mentioned in the State Department's "Country Reports on Terrorism 2009."

Witnesses have said that after lunch on Nov. 5, 2009, a gunman wearing an Army combat uniform opened fire after shouting "Allahu Akbar!" — or "God is great!" in Arabic — inside a crowded Fort Hood medical building where deploying and returning soldiers received vaccines and other tests.

A Senate report released last year said the FBI missed warning signs about Hasan, an Army psychiatrist who was to deploy to Afghanistan the following month. The report said he had become an Islamic extremist and a "ticking time bomb" before the rampage at Fort Hood, about 125 miles southwest of Fort Worth. Officials also say Hasan exchanged emails with Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical U.S.-born Islamic cleric killed in Yemen last year by a drone strike.

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Associated Press writer Lolita Baldor in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.