KILLEEN -- Army Spc. J.D. Hunt was 22 years old when he was killed by Maj. Nidal Hasan at Fort Hood. Now Hunt's sister Leila Hunt-Willingham says family members and survivors of the 2009 shooting rampage still need help.
"Those who survived continue to suffer, as they have permanent physical and emotional trauma that haunt them every day," Hunt-Willingham told media gathered Monday morning inside the Killeen Civic and Conference Center, just a few short miles from the Army installation.
Legislation announced Monday by Sen. John Cornyn and Reps. John Carter and Roger Williams (R-TX) would award those killed or wounded in the shooting with a Purple Heart or the civilian equivalent, the Secretary of Defense Medal for the Defense of Freedom. It would also make the military victims and their families eligible for the same benefits as those wounded or killed in combat zones.
"Nothing can bring my brother back, but we want to ensure that the survivors are taken care of," Hunt-Willingham told KVUE. "Just as my brother would never want to leave a fallen comrade, we want to make sure that the ones who survived are receiving all that they need to be taken care of."
The lack of benefits stems in part from the initial classification of the shootings as workplace violence, a decision made by the U.S. Department of Defense over of concerns that an official label of terrorism could compromise Hasan's constitutional right to a fair trial.
"Now that he's been convicted, now that he's been given the death penalty, we're free to talk and to call this what it is," Cornyn said Monday. "And that is an act Of terror."
According to a joint press release, the benefits would be provided retroactively to the date of the attack. They include combat-related special compensation, maximum coverage under Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance, tax breaks after death in combat zone or terrorist attack, special pay for subjection to hostile fire or imminent danger, combat-related injury rehabilitation pay and meals at military treatment facilities.
The legislation to be filed in both chambers of Congress also declares that:
- The attack constituted an act of terrorism, not merely workplace violence;
- The U.S. Government has a fundamental duty to our troops to safeguard them against avoidable harm, and the Fort Hood attack could and should have been prevented;
- The perpetrator, Nidal Hasan, had become radicalized while serving in the U.S. Army and was principally motivated to attack by an ideology of violent Islamist extremism;
- Hasan proved himself to be not just a terrorist, but also a traitor and an enemy of the U.S.
"We are a nation at war, and the location of men and women in uniform who come under hostile fire from terrorists should not unduly prejudice them and their families from receiving the full honors, recognition and benefits associated with their courageous service," said Cornyn. "As a nation we have a sacred obligation to take care of them, to care for those who have taken care of us, and who've put themselves in harm's way to keep us safe. That's what this bill will do."
In addition to the legislation, lawmakers and family members called for renewed support of a memorial based in Killeen. It would featuring 13 individually personalized sculptures, one for each of the fallen, mounted on 13 pillars and positioned in front of support columns for the structure. So far $165,415 has been raised towards the project's $402,530 total cost.
Fort Hood November 5, 2009 Memorial -- CLICK HERE.
"It will mean a lot. I mean our families, this is something that we need, to know that people are still going to remember the sacrifices of all those 13 that day," said Keely Vanacker, the daughter of 62-year old victim Michael Cahill. Cahill was the one civilian murdered in the attack, and after seeing his killer convicted and sentenced, Vanacker says she's ready for closure.
"This is just that final piece to help all soldiers and all of us to move forward," said Vanacker.