This is why our president, the military commander-in-chief, is rated so poorly by his own military. You can’t overlay your political position that no acts of terrorism ever occurred in this country on your watch and punish your own people to avoid the truth and expect them to respect you. Hopefully, we will get another president soon who will rectify this grievous act. One who isn’t lying about her involvement in another sad act at a certain Benghazi embassy that may rival this in political shenanigans. A president who will call a terrorist a terrorist, who will see Iran for the threat it is, and who will re-wind this mess and give the victims their due respect and benefits.
It was more than five years ago that the gunshots rang out, but those of us who survived can still hear their echoes. On Nov. 5, 2009, an Army psychiatrist named Nidal Hasan—an American radicalized by extremist Islamic beliefs—opened fire on his fellow soldiers in Fort Hood, Texas, killing 14 people, including an unborn child, and wounding 32
I was there. A beloved friend, Capt. John Gaffaney, died at my knees. I was slated to become the shooter’s direct supervisor and later learned I was at the top of his hit list.
That day has faded from the minds of most Americans. But the survivors and the families of the deceased continually relive its horror. They also continue to face betrayal by the government they served.
At about 1:34 p.m., Hasan, seated in a building on base and armed with an FN five-seven pistol and a Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum revolver, paused to bow his head. Then he stood up from behind a cubicle, shouted “Allahu akbar!” (God is great) and began spraying bullets throughout the room. Soldiers, including my friend John, charged the shooter but were gunned down before they could reach him.
Hasan took direct aim at those in uniform, including 21-year-old Pvt. Francheska Velez, who had disarmed bombs in Iraq and recently learned she was nine weeks pregnant. One survivor testified that she heard Velez plead, “Please don’t, please don’t. My baby, my baby!” Hasan shot her in the chest. Velez was headed home to Chicago for leave. Instead, she and her child died on the floor at Fort Hood.
The shooter continuously reloaded his weapons as unarmed soldiers tried to escape. After he left the building to continue his rampage, others dashed inside, secured the doors with a belt and began rendering emergency treatment. The floor was so slick with blood that those responding later said they found it hard to reach the wounded and dying.
Hasan exchanged gunfire outside with civilian police Sgt. Kimberly Munley, who was struck in the thigh and femur. As she fell, her weapon reportedly jammed and the shooter kicked it from her grasp. Finally, 10 minutes after the massacre began, Hasan was downed by five shots from another civilian police officer, Sgt. Mark Todd, and taken into custody.
Investigators found 146 shell casings inside the building and another 68 in the surrounding area. The shooter had almost as many unused rounds, 177, tucked in his pockets in 20- and 30-round extended magazines.
Hasan’s goal was to kill as many soldiers as possible. He was cold-eyed and systematic. We should have seen him coming.
The FBI and the Defense Department possessed sufficient information, collected over several years, to have detected Hasan’s radicalization. During his training, Hasan routinely and unmistakably violated strict standards by communicating with suspected terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki—email that the FBI intercepted. In 2007 he was required for his residency to give a scholarly psychiatric presentation. Instead he lectured on Islam, stating that nonbelievers should be beheaded and set on fire, and suggested that Muslim-Americans in the military pose a risk of fratricide. In another talk, Hasan justified suicide bombings on grounds that the U.S. is at war with Islam.
Both an instructor and a colleague referred to Hasan as a “ticking time bomb.” But his shocking conduct was ignored. Officer-evaluation reports “sanitized his obsession with violent Islamist extremism into praiseworthy research on counterterrorism,” a 2011 congressional review states. Political correctness, to which the military continues to bow, led many to fear that reporting Hasan would result in career-ending charges of racial or religious discrimination.
It is a gross miscarriage of justice that no one who supervised the shooter—overlooked his behavior and promoted him—has been held accountable. That the massacre is still labeled an incident of workplace violence committed by a disgruntled employee is delusional and contemptible. Because the massacre was not recognized as a terrorist attack, victims were deemed ineligible for combat-injury benefits, the Purple Heart, and its civilian counterpart, the Defense of Freedom medal. Three successive defense secretaries refused to change this designation, and five years passed.
Survivors of the massacre and the families of the dead are now finding some measure of justice. Congress has rewritten the language governing fallen warriors, and Army Secretary John McHugh has announced that Fort Hood victims will receive long-overdue medals. They will be offered burial plots at Arlington National Cemetery and compensation pay upon retirement. But further details remain unclear. For instance, Staff Sgt. Shawn Manning, whom Hasan shot six times, told reporters last year that because his injuries were not classified as combat-related, he lost roughly $70,000 in benefits and $2,500 a month in pay. Will he be made whole?
Some of those who rushed in to drag their brothers and sisters to safety were given the Meritorious Unit Citation, but paperwork for many other awards—including those to my former unit—remains piled on desks at Human Resources Command. Now that Congress has changed the criteria, those who rendered aid should be eligible for, and given, the Combat Action Badge and the Combat Medical Badge as well.
Finally, those who weren’t shot but who suffered severe psychological injuries, rendering them unable to work, are ineligible for the Purple Heart and will never be compensated. Post-traumatic stress disorder is common among the survivors, and at least two have committed suicide. Many are trying, with the help of counseling, to piece themselves together. Acknowledging that their trauma stems from a terrorist attack would be a small step, but a meaningful one.
The victims of Nidal Hasan were denied pay, benefits and recognition because our leaders refused to acknowledge what the massacre clearly was: an act of terror by an Islamic extremist. They said it wasn’t combat, but it sure as hell felt like that. Hasan turned Fort Hood into a battlefield.
Congress has provided an opening to give my fellow soldiers what they are owed. It’s time for the Army to do so.
Ms. Platoni is a clinical psychologist and retired Army colonel.