Purple Heart for Fort Hood Victims?

The Pentagon considers those killed by Nidal Hassan at Fort Hood three years ago victims of workplace violence, not terrorism.

The Pentagon considers those killed by Nidal Hassan at Fort Hood three years ago victims of workplace violence. A movement has sprung up to label them victims of terrorism and thus make them eligible for the Purple Heart.

AP (“Purple Hearts for Fort Hood victims?“:

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,” said Kimberly Munley, one of the first two officers who arrived at the shooting scene.

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.


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 Hasan had become an Islamic extremist and a “ticking time bomb” before the rampage at Fort Hood. Officials also say he exchanged e-mails with Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical U.S.-born Islamic cleric killed in Yemen last year by a drone strike.

My strong guess is that, once Hasan is convicted, the Pentagon will join the rest of the government in declaring the shootings a terrorist act and that the uniformed victims will indeed be awarded the Purple Heart and any other additional benefits that come with that designation.

Those killed at the Pentagon on 9/11 were so honored and there’s no obvious distinction between the two groups, other than the fact that Hasan is an American citizen. That’s not a trivial distinction, since the Purple Heart award criteria continually use the words “foreign” and “international:

(1) In any action against an enemy of the United States.
(2) In any action with an opposing armed force of a foreign country in which the Armed Forces of the United States are or have been engaged.
(3) While serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force inwhich the United States is not a belligerent party.
(4) As the result of an act of any such enemy of opposing Armed Forces.
(5) As the result of an act of any hostile foreign force.
(6) After 28 March 1973, as the result of an international terrorist attack against the United States or a foreign nation friendly to the United States, recognized as such an attack by the Secretary of Army, or jointly by the Secretaries of the separate armed services concerned if persons from more than one service are wounded in the attack.
(7) After 28 March 1973, as the result of military operations while serving outside the territory of the United States as part of a peacekeeping force.

Then again:

(8) Members killed or wounded in action by friendly fire. In accordance with 10 USC 1129 for award of the Purple Heart, the Secretary of the Army will treat a member of the Armed Forces described in (a), below, in the same manner as a member who is killed or wounded in action as the result of an act of an enemy of the United States.

The Fort Hood victims are technically in a gray area. While Hassan considered himself part of al Qaeda, it’s not clear that he actually was. And, since there wasn’t an ongoing firefight with an enemy force, his murder spree isn’t really “friendly fire,” either.

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs, National Security, Terrorism, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. legion says:

    I think you’re correct – this will eventually be admitted as terrorism & the PH will be awarded. In addition to your own citations, I would add:

    Executive Order 12464, dated February 23, 1984, authorized award of the Purple Heart as a result of terrorist attacks or while serving as part of a peacekeeping force subsequent to March 28, 1973.

    That was a result of the hit on the barracks in Lebanon, IIRC, and I don’t believe it makes any distinction between foreign or domestic terrorism, so DoD’s formal declaration should be all a proper award is waiting on.

  2. Just Me says:

    I think it should already be considered terrorism.

    I don’t care as much about the purple heart issues so much as the issue of disability and payments for combat related injury. Those left disabled by this attack should be able to make claims the same as somebody injured in a terrorist attack.

  3. Boyd says:

    At least he’ll be clean-shaven for his court martial.

    I suppose it’s a reflection of how long it’s been since I retired from the Navy, but I’m floored that it took the Army months to decide that a soldier on active duty, who through his previous years of service had never requested to wear a beard, is still prohibited from wearing a beard. I mean, I don’t really think the beard makes an intrinsic difference, but the regs (and what used to pass for common sense) make it pretty clear that he has to shave.

  4. JKB says:

    @Just Me:

    Terrorism doesn’t really affect that unless there is some special compensation fund for terrorist related injuries somewhere. The civilians would have Workman’s compensation claims and the active duty would have a service related injury.

    The designation does impact awards and some compensation. But the grossest impact of the designation as workplace violence is the open refusal of the National Command Authority under Obama to acknowledge that the enemy has developed a fifth column within the ranks of the military.

  5. legion says:


    The designation does impact awards and some compensation.

    Yes, JKB, and that’s why it has to be formally declared as such by someone with the authority to release those awards & compensation, rather than just being declared so by any yutz on the Internet. Your concluding sentence, which completely ignores the one I just quoted, is how we know you’re a gutless moron.

  6. Boyd says:

    Sometimes I wonder why I’ve generally quit reading the comments on OTB posts. You’ve reminded me why, legion.

  7. legion says:

    @Boyd: Really? With absolutely no justification (and only tangentially related to the thread topic), JKB flatly insults the sitting CinC, all but calling him a traitor, because the DoD is following its own rules, and your nose gets out of joint for my calling him on it? You won’t be missed.

  8. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    Here’s the point: if Fort Hood was a terrorist attack, then Obama can’t claim that there have been no terrorist attacks under his watch. So the attacks get defined away into something else.

    It’s the old question: how many legs does a dog have, if you call its tail a leg?

    (Answer: four. Just because you call a tail a leg, that doesn’t make it a leg. And calling a terrorist attack an incident of “workplace violence” doesn’t make it not a terrorist attack.)

  9. legion says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: OK, Jenos. When exactly has anybody claimed there have been “no terrorist attacks” under Obama? The guy who shot up the Wisconsin Sikh temple was a terrorist. The guy who flew his plane into the IRS building in Texas was a terrorist. The guy who planted a bomb at the MLK parade in Spokane was a terrorist. The Nebraska lesbian whose house was broken into & set aflame while the attacker carved slurs into her skin was a victim of terrorism, and so was the guard at the FRC in Washington who got shot keeping a nut from getting inside. (I’d post links, but the filter would get me. These are all pretty easy to Google, tho)

    Outside of your own little echo chamber, who exactly is saying there haven’t been any terrorist attacks?

  10. dkaz says:

    Restitution can be resolved in many ways. By the book doesn’t always have application because it’s written in a standard guideline or policy.
    Instances can change vintage writings, as well as move things in line with changing times.
    Domestic acts of terror are becoming more commonplace, it is time to rethink, rewrite and react accordingly. I believe we’re in agreement.

  11. matt says:

    @legion: I think he’s mixing it up with fox news and crew who proudly proclaimed there were no terrorist attacks under Bush’s watch… after 9/11…