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Fort Hood shooting victims accuse U.S. of neglect, betrayal

February 13, 2013|By Matt Pearce
  • President Barack Obama -- pictured here at a memorial service at Fort Hood, Texas, November 10, 2009 -- has come under criticism by survivors of the attack.
President Barack Obama -- pictured here at a memorial service at Fort Hood,… (Kevin Lamarque / Reuters )

Some survivors of the 2009 Fort Hood massacre say the government has neglected them.

On Tuesday, the same night President Barack Obama gave his State-of-the-Union speech, ABC's "Nightline" was to broadcast interviews with disgruntled survivors, including a Fort Hood civilian police officer who accuses the government of betrayal.

"Not to the least little bit have the victims been taken care of," former Sgt. Kimberly Munley, who was shot three times, told ABC News. "In fact, they've been neglected."

The timing of the interviews was conspicous: Three years ago, she and her partner, Senior Sgt. Mark Todd, were special guests at Obama's 2010 State of the Union speech. Todd has been credited with shooting Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who still faces military trial on charges of killing 13 people and wounding 32 more.

The claims in ABC's story appear to recap the complaints in a lawsuit filed in November by dozens of Fort Hood shooting victims and victims' family members against government officials, Hasan and the estate of Anwar Awlaki, a New Mexico native who became an Al Qaeda leader and an influential pedagogue for would-be terrorists -- including, allegedly, Hasan.

The  lawsuit accuses the government of "slavish devotion to political correctness" in failing to recognize Nadal as an extremist before the shooting and in classifying the shooting as "workplace violence" rather than a terrorist attack. The distinction matters, the lawsuit claims, because it exempts the shooting's survivors from full military health benefits.

"In the immediate aftermath of the attack, high-ranking political and military officials, including the president and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited with some of the wounded soldiers, civilians and their family members, promising them the best care, support and assistance from the Army and DOD," the lawsuit said.

"However, these promises disappeared into the ether when the television cameras left Fort Hood. Many of the seriously wounded and injured plaintiffs were left abandoned to their own means and devices to obtain decent medical care."

The lawsuit then cites survivors who have struggled to receive adequate care and says some have been taunted, punished and forgotten.

Specialist George O. Stratton III said he was shot in the shoulder but denied treatment for PTSD, then was demoted and released from the military without disability pay.

Sgt. Rex A. Stalnaker said he survived the attack only to get PTSD and be deployed immediately to Afghanistan.

Staff Sgt. Alonzo M. Lunsford, Jr. said "he has not received the care and treatment he deserves and has been denied a promotion because of his criticism of the defendants’ treatment of Hasan’s victims and their refusal to acknowledge the Fort Hood terrorist attack," according to the lawsuit.

"In yet another case, the Armed Forces Chief of Staff had given a wounded soldier his card with instructions to call if he [the soldier] needed anything," the lawsuit said. "Severely injured and disabled, unable to even drive himself to his doctor appointments, and on the verge of economic disaster because his wife had to quit her job and provide him with full time care, he called for help. No one answered. No help was provided."

Pentagon spokesman George Little told ABC News, "Survivors of the incident at Fort Hood are eligible for the same medical benefits as all servicemembers."

Army Secretary John McHugh said that for legal reasons, the determinations that would allow the military to award Purple Hearts to wounded survivors "would have a profound effect on the ability to conduct [Hasan's] trial."

The government has yet to publicly present a comprehensive rebuttal to the lawsuit in court, but the complaint itself also shows that the plaintiffs are not uniformly aggrieved: Some victims reported receiving full or near-full disability benefits upon leaving the military, and others reported receiving extensive treatment for their injuries and trauma.

The letters "PTSD" repetitively dot the complaint. Survivors and family members report Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after surviving the attack, after thinking their family members were dead, after treating survivors.

The ripples tended to move outward: Major Dr. Clifford A. Hopewell was responsible for examining head injuries at Ft. Hood, and his lab was impounded after the attack. "He operated from a parking lot using a cellphone for close to a year," the lawsuit says, and then Hopewell retired, "thus depriving the Army of the very professionals most needed to  treat the victims of the Fort Hood massacre."

The lawsuit said his wife had been distressed too.

matt.pearce@latimes.com

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