A court has told the U.S. Army to explain its decision to withhold the Purple Heart award from a soldier injured when Fort Hood was the target of a Muslim terrorist’s attack.
Or maybe just give the award to his survivors, since he died a few years ago.
The case before U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper is being documented by Judicial Watch, the Washington watchdog group.
Cooper ordered that the Army reconsider its decision to withhold the honor from Sgt. Joshua Berry.
He was injured in the 2009 terror attack on Fort Hood by Maj. Nidal Hasan, who told the court during his 2013 court martial that he was under the influence of al-Qaida when he opened fire on his fellow service members, killing 13 and injuring 30 others.
The government at first tried to call the mayhem an incident of “workplace violence,” which drew immediate objections from members of Congress because it made victims and their families ineligible for certain honors and benefits.
Congress then enacted legislation mandating that service members killed or wounded in an attack targeting members of the armed forces and carried out by an individual in communication with or inspired by a foreign terror group be eligible for the Purple Heart.
The honor is not based on recommendations from officers but on the circumstances of an injury. It is awarded to those who meet specific criteria.
And while Berry met those requirements, the Army repeatedly rejected requests from Berry’s father for the award.
A lawsuit was filed by Judicial Watch over the decision, and the judge now has concluded that the Army must reconsider its decision or explain “sufficiently” why it is not changing the results.
Explained Judicial Watch: “On remand, the Army, assuming it wishes to stick with its determination, must explain why Berry is not entitled to a Purple Heart and do so with sufficient clarity that ‘a court can measure’ the denial ‘against the ‘arbitrary or capricious’ standard of the [Administrative Procedures Act].'”
The organization said that when Hasan was attacking and killing other soldiers, Berry told those around him in one of the buildings in the area to get down.
“When Sgt. Berry heard gunshots hit the metal doors near him, he leaped over a desk to take cover and, in so doing, dislocated his left shoulder. He then heard Hasan trying to kick in the doors. According to a witness statement from another individual, Hasan fired three rounds at the briefing room doors,” Judicial Watch said.
Later, after the sergeant died, his father requested the Purple Heart and was denied.
On appeal, a panel of the Army Board for Correction of Military Records said the Purple Heart should be given to Berry, but Francine Blackmon, a deputy assistant in the Army, rejected the recommendation.
Cooper, however, said he could not “meaningfully evaluate the reasoning” by Blackmon because it was a “boilerplate” decision.
Blackmon’s claim that Berry’s injury was insufficient to qualify him for the honor wasn’t explained, the judge wrote.
“Why not? Was there conflicting evidence regarding how immediate of a threat Hasan posed to Berry as he sat inside the building? Was the evidence clear but the Deputy Assistant Secretary thought that Berry could have taken cover without injuring himself? Or did she read the regulations as categorically taking the Purple Heart off the table for service members injured while taking cover?”
The judge found the denial letter gives no information, and that is enough to send the case back to the district court.
“Berry’s father challenges that denial under the Administrative Procedures Act. He claims that the deputy assistant secretary’s decision was ‘arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law,’ and that it was ‘unsupported by substantial evidence.’ The court agrees … and it will remand this matter to the Army for reconsideration,” the judge said.