Special Report: "The Fort Hood Fight" - Survivors battle for benefits
WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) – While Nidal Hasan sits in a military prison cell, his legal battle against the United States is moving forward. A military panel sentenced Hasan to death after convicting him on 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in the attack at Fort Hood, Texas on November 5, 2009. Automatic appeals will take place before Hasan can be executed.
While that battle plays out in the military justice system, there are others fighting their battle with the military over the same incident. The survivors of the attack, and the families of those who died, believe the government has turned its back on the men and women who fought to protect it. Many of the survivors have received treatment for their injuries, the physical and mental wounds left behind by Hasan's gunfire.
Alonzo Lunsford still has one of Hasan's bullets in his body. Lunsford, now retired as a Staff Sergeant medic with the Army Reserves, lost sight in his left eye from where Hasan's first shot entered his temple. He suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome, and has received treatment for that condition. He also has trouble moving his large six-foot, nine-inch frame from where other bullets riddled his insides. "When I go to the toilet, it's like I am a kid again," Lunsford said in a recent interview from his home near Fort Bragg. "I need assistance bathing, I need assistance shaving, I even need assistance brushing my hair."
For the survivors, the bigger deal than what they have received since Hasan's attack, is what they have not received. There are additional disability payments and retirement benefits made available for soldiers hurt in combat-related incidents. Benefits such as Combat-Related Special Compensation (CRSC), which is a monthly payment to retirees who have a "combat related" disability. Severance pay packages are more lucrative for soldiers who suffer combat-related injuries.
Lunsford says he was denied social security disability three times for his injuries, and is now getting an attorney to help in his case. Lunsford recalls not receiving treatment for PTSD at a qualified clinic in California because he did not "qualify" for that benefit after the attack.
Shawn Manning was a Staff Sergeant with the Army Reserves, called onto active duty while working as a civilian for the federal government, when he was injured by a half-dozen of Hasan's bullets. "Normally when I was called onto active duty they would keep my pay the same as when I worked as a civilian, so I would not lose any pay when I would deploy," Manning said. "As soon as I was shot, I was then considered to be on 'voluntary orders' and I lost my "differential pay", or the difference in my pay. In my case, I lost almost two thousand dollars a month in pay immediately after the shooting." Manning says he has tried to fight through the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Army, but has so far not received any resolution to his case.
Kim Munley, the native of Carolina Beach who was also wounded in the attack, has taken a lead role in advocating for the victims of the attack. She was shot four times in a gun battle with Hasan, hitting him twice in the exchange. Munley responded to the incident while working as a civilian police officer at Fort Hood. She and fellow officer Mark Todd are credited with shooting Hasan and stopping his rampage. "The victims have suffered physically, mentally and emotionally," Munley said. "To see that these victims have not received anything but a typical discharge that someone who broke their ankle running in PT received. It's horrifying. Shawn Manning has done a figure, and he says he has lost out on almost $65,000 because he was not deemed 'a combat vet'.
That designation would change for Manning and the other survivors if the Army would officially classify the shooting at Fort Hood as a "terrorist attack". Currently it is considered a case of "workplace violence" by the Army and Department of Defense. Along with bringing the additional benefits, changing the official classification to "terrorist attack" would also make the survivors and victims eligible to receive the Purple Heart,
The term "terrorist attack" has been used several times by high-ranking officials when talking about the Fort Hood shooting. A 2011 Congressional report authored by Sen. Joseph Lieberman and Sen. Susan Collins of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee called Fort Hood "..the worst terrorist attack on United States soil since September 11, 2001."
In February of 2011, then-Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano when referring to Nidal Hasan said "..he is a terrorist." Michael Leiter, the Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said in the same Congressional hearing when referring to the Fort Hood incident "..within about 48 hours of that attack we designated that a terrorist attack in what we call the Worldwide Incidents Tracking System."
Prior to Hasan being put on trial, the Army said classifying the Fort Hood incident as a terrorist attack would jeopardize Hasan's ability to receive a fair trial. When asked for an update on the classification process after the military trial and sentencing concluded, a spokesman sent this comment to WECT News via email:
"Eligibility for the Purple Heart - as with other military awards - is quite specific. Purple Hearts may be awarded to military personal killed or wounded as a result of an "international terrorist attack;" however, intelligence reports, investigations and studies, such as those by the Webster Commission and Congressional Research Service, all found that Hasan acted as a lone wolf. While there has been no intelligence or findings to date that indicate Hasan was under the direction or control of a foreign element, we are currently reviewing court transcripts to determine whether
any evidence to the contrary was presented at trial. At this point in time, victims of the Fort Hood tragedy do not qualify for the Purple Heart, but if something is found in our investigation of court records, we will, of course, act accordingly."
COL David H. Patterson Jr.
Chief, Media Relations Division
Office of the Chief of Public Affairs
"He (Hasan) was in direct communication with a person who was on our most wanted list, Anwar al-Awlaki," Lunsford countered during his interview. "He had telephone conversations and email correspondence, and he even sent money to this man (al-Awlaki) to finance his operation that was run by Al-Qaeda, and he received his order for his jihad from Anwar al-Awlaki." Communications between Hasan and aw-Awlaki were confirmed in the Webster Report, ordered by the head of the FBI about a month after the shooting.
Some members of Congress have tried to help. Since Hasan's trial ended, Rep. John Carter (R-TX) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) have introduced bills in the U.S. House and Senate to make the Fort Hood victims and survivors eligible for the Purple Heart, and the additional benefits due to soldiers suffering combat-related injuries. Both bills are still in committee. Emails seeking comment from both members went unanswered.
Earlier this year, the Defense Department released a position paper objecting to the proposal, based on the ruling that Fort Hood was not "…an international terrorist attack against the United States". "Adhering to the criterion for award of the Purple Heart is essential to preserve the integrity of the award" is one of the statements in that report.
In that same report, the DOD stated..'The government has vigilantly tended to the needs of the victims and their families since the tragic events of November 5, 2009", which draws the ire of many victims.
"It makes my skin crawl, because that is not true, it's a bold faced lie," Munley said when hearing of the statement."To have to counsel these victims like I do to this day, and help them and to hear what they have to go through, I am so infuriated. Now we're coming up on four years, and still nothing has been done."
Both Lunsford and Munley have openly criticized high-ranking officials, including President Obama, for not following through on promises both say they heard in the days, weeks and months after the shooting. Politicians, military leaders and others who said the Fort Hood victims would be cared for.
"Don't say you're going to do it, and I know you have the power to do it, and you lie and you don't," said Lunsford. "We are not going to fade away. As long as we all have breath in our bodies, we're going to talk about this thing."
Reaction on Capitol Hill
Some members of North Carolina's delegation are responding to WECT's investigation into the effort by survivors of the Fort Hood shooting to have the event classified as a terrorist attack.
Here are comments received via email since our investigation aired Monday night:
"….the fact that the Fort Hood attack took place on U.S. soil rather than in a designated combat zone should not preclude the victims and their families from receiving the same awards and benefits as individuals who are deployed overseas and wounded or killed through a terrorist attack. This is particularly true in light of the precedent set by the federal government when it awarded military victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks with the Purple Heart and civilian victims with the Secretary of Defense Medal for the Defense of Freedom." – Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-NC3)
"The Ft. Hood massacre that killed 13 Americans and wounded 32 others was an act of terror on innocent citizens. I have long supported the efforts of those involved to gain this classification. In fact, in October 2012, I wrote the Department of Defense and requested that the agency reevaluate its classification of the Fort Hood massacre in November 2009 as "workplace violence" and instead reclassify it as a "terrorist attack." I am also a cosponsor of the Honoring the Fort Hood Heroes Act, that would declare the horrific act as a terrorist attack, while also ensuring that the victims of the attack and their families receive the same honors and benefits as those Americans who have been killed or wounded in a combat zone overseas and their families." – Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-NC7)
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