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House Wants to Force Pentagon to Award Purple Hearts

U.S. House Wants Victims to Get Medals Over Pentagon Objections
A file photo from November 2009 shows a memorial during the service for the thirteen victims of the shooting by U.S. Army Major Nidal Hasan in Fort Hood, Texas. Photographer: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

June 14 (Bloomberg) -- The House passed legislation that would award Purple Heart medals to victims of the shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, a move the Defense Department says could disrupt the trial of the alleged shooter.

The provision in the defense authorization bill, H.R. 1960, would require the department to extend the military honor to all those killed or wounded during the shootings at the Army base on Nov. 5, 2009. The bill, passed today by a vote of 315-108, would authorize $638 billion in discretionary, mandatory and war spending by the Defense Department and related agencies in fiscal 2014.

The Pentagon opposes the Fort Hood provision, saying it could adversely affect the court-martial of Major Nidal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist charged in the shooting deaths of 13 fellow soldiers and the wounding of almost three dozen people. Hasan is awaiting a military trial in Texas.

The Purple Heart provision “would undermine the prosecution of Major Nidal Hasan by materially and directly compromising Major Hasan’s ability to receive a fair trial,” the Pentagon wrote in a position paper that referred to last year’s House defense authorization. “This provision will be viewed as setting the stage for a formal declaration that Major Hasan is a terrorist.”

Dropped in Conference

This is the second time the House has passed legislation with the Purple Heart requirement. Last year’s Senate bill, written by Michigan Democrat Carl Levin, didn’t include that language, and the provision didn’t make it through conference. There is again no similar language in this year’s measure, S. 1034, which the Armed Services Committee approved yesterday, 23-3.

“The Department of Defense is committed to the integrity of the ongoing court martial proceedings of Major Nidal Hasan and for that reason will not further characterize, at this time, the incident that occurred at Fort Hood,” Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Tom Crosson, a Pentagon spokesman, said today in a statement.

This year’s House bill also seeks to force the Pentagon to award Purple Heart medals to victims of another shooting in 2009. Abdulhakim Muhammad allegedly attacked a recruiting station in Little Rock, Arkansas, shooting one person to death and wounding another on June 1 of that year.

‘Dramatic Departure’

“The proposed bill alters the long established Purple Heart award criterion,” the Pentagon said in its position paper, first obtained by ABC News. “To expand the Purple Heart award criteria to include domestic criminal acts or domestic terror attacks would be a dramatic departure.”

Congressional and Pentagon aides confirmed that the Defense Department is against the legislation for the same reasons.

“They are opposing it,” Texas Republican John Carter, whose congressional district includes Fort Hood, said today in an interview. “I disagree with the Pentagon. They don’t want to call those battlefield injuries.”

Carter has sponsored legislation, H.R. 705, that would provide the Purple Heart and subsequent benefits to the Fort Hood victims.

In an e-mailed statement, Carter said he’s refraining from commenting on the Hasan case so as not to affect the trial’s outcome. “I do however remain committed and dedicated to ensuring the victims of the Fort Hood shooting receive the benefits and support they deserve,” he said.

The White House expressed its opposition this week to the provision and the bill as a whole. “This provision is inconsistent with the award criteria for the Purple Heart,” the Office of Management and Budget wrote in a statement of administration policy.

Extra Benefits

The measure approved by the House Armed Services Committee earlier this month would have extended additional federal benefits to those shot in Texas and Arkansas. That provision was removed through an amendment offered by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican.

Michelle Dimarob, a spokesman for Camp, said in a statement that in the days leading up to House floor consideration, “a concern was identified that a particular provision included in the bill was a tax provision but had not been considered in the tax-writing committee, as is required under House rules.”

She added that while the amendment removes the provision that would provide tax-free benefits, Camp “is supportive of the substance of the underlying provision” and he’s working with lawmakers to find another legislative vehicle for including those benefits.

*Updates with Pentagon statement in sixth paragraph.

To contact the reporter on this story: Timothy R. Homan in Washington at thoman1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Katherine Rizzo at krizzo5@bloomberg.net

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