Army decides Fort Hood victims will receive Purple Heart

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Secretary of the Army John McHugh announced Friday that victims of the 2009 Fort Hood massacre will receive the Purple Heart, in an about-face for the military which initially described the attacks as "workplace violence."

The decision to award the Purple Heart was first reported by Fox News.

In a written statement, McHugh cited a recent change in the law that allowed the Army to proceed with the medals.

"The Purple Heart's strict eligibility criteria had prevented us from awarding it to victims of the horrific attack at Fort Hood," McHugh said in a statement. "Now that Congress has changed the criteria, we believe there is sufficient reason to allow these men and women to be awarded and recognized" with either the Purple Heart or, for civilians, the Defense of Freedom medal.

"It's an appropriate recognition of their service and sacrifice," McHugh said.

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    Victims of the 2009 shooting and their families had been pressing the military to award the Purple Heart, and the benefits that come with it, for years.

    They got a boost when Congress passed recent funding legislation requiring the Defense Department to reconsider whether the victims qualify for the honor. The Army statement on Friday said the legislation expanded the eligibility criteria by broadening what can be considered an attack by a foreign terrorist organization.

    The Army determined the shooting could be considered an attack because the shooter "was in communication with the foreign terrorist organization before the attack."

    Texas Republican Rep. John Carter, who had pushed for the honor, hailed Friday's announcement.

    "This has been a long, hard fight," he said in a statement. "The victims of this attack have struggled, suffered and been abandoned by this Administration. No more. Today is a day of victory and I am honored to have fought on their behalf."

    Fox News was first to report that the massacre -- in which 13 were killed and more than 30 wounded when former Army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan opened fire after shouting "Allahu Akbar" -- was initially classified as "workplace violence."

    Further evidence has steadily emerged since the attack that Hasan was motivated by his extreme religious views. Intelligence agencies intercepted emails between Hasan and the radical American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who, at the time, was a leader of Al Qaeda in Yemen. Awlaki was killed in a drone strike in 2011.

    Hasan was convicted in 2013 and sentenced to death by a general court martial. He is currently incarcerated at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, awaiting appeal.

    After his August 2013 conviction, Hasan told his lawyer, John Galligan, to release letters to Fox News in which Hasan pledged his allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State.

    Earlier this year, a lawyer for victims of the shooting and their families told Fox News that some victims are still so damaged physically and mentally they are unable to work five years after the massacre -- and the benefits that come with the Purple Heart would be a lifeline.

    "No one will be the same," attorney Neal Sher told Fox News last month.

    Sher told Fox News in January there was stiff resistance to the new congressional language requiring a review of Purple Heart consideration. "The administration and the Pentagon," Sher explained, "they lobbied hard against it. But we worked very hard and we were successful in garnering bi-partisan support for this."

    Fox News' Catherine Herridge and Nicholas Kalman contributed to this report.