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Congress wants to put a dollar figure on what victims of the first Fort Hood, Texas, shooting have lost because the tragedy was classified as workplace violence.
Last week, members of the House Appropriations Committee tucked language into their fiscal 2015 veterans and military construction budget plan that would require “a detailed analysis of the benefits and medical care the victims … would receive now and into the future if this event were classified as an act of terrorism.”
The measure, which drew support from both Republicans and Democrats, comes after the recent public re-examination the 2009 shooting, which left left 14 dead and 32 wounded.
Reports on the aftermath of that tragedy, the deadliest mass shooting ever at a U.S. military base, were prompted by another shooting at the Texas Army base earlier this month, which left 16 wounded and four dead, including the shooter.
Officials believe the recent shooting was spurred by a fight between soldiers. But the motives behind the 2009 event have proved more controversial, and drawn assertions from Capitol Hill that the attack should be classified as an act of war.
Last August, former Army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan was sentenced to death for the shooting. Prosecutors argued the attack was a “jihad duty” under his Islamic faith, and witnesses reported him yelling Islamic blessings as he gunned down his fellow soldiers.
But Pentagon officials classified the attack as a workplace violence incident, arguing it did not meet the criteria for a terrorist or combat attack.
Conservatives on Capitol Hill have tried unsuccessfully for years to overturn that classification, which would make victims eligible for Purple Hearts, higher insurance payouts and a host of combat medical benefits.
Earlier this week, White House officials declined a request from victims of the 2009 shooting to meet with the president and discuss their ongoing struggles. In 2012, more than 100 victims and family members filed a lawsuit against the Defense Department for lost benefits related to the workplace violence designation, but that case is still pending.
If the attack were reclassified as a combat or terrorist incident, benefits payouts alone could run into the tens of millions of dollars, supporters argue. Victims would also be eligible for expanded military and veterans medical benefits.
The budget bill amendment calls for the cost report to be completed by July 15, but the full House and Senate must approve the measure before it can be sent to the White House. In recent years, Senate leaders have been reluctant to tackle the terrorism classification issue.