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One year later: Giffords will soon face decision about future

In this photo provided by the office of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., Giffords, second from left, and fellow shooting survivor Ron Barber unveil a memorial plaque Saturday in honor of slain staffer Gabe Zimmerman in Tucson, Ariz. At left is Giffords' husband, Mark Kelly.

WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) -- The signals are strong. One year after being shot in the head, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is on a mission to return to the job she so clearly loved.

Her husband and people near the three-term congresswoman said she is highly motivated to recover from her injuries and get back to work in Washington, potentially using her inspirational story as a way to mend political differences in the nation's capital. She faces a May deadline to get on the November ballot, meaning she has a few months to decide her next step.

Her future will depend on a recovery that has progressed in remarkable fashion over the past year as she is now able to walk and talk. Her only interview occurred with ABC's Diane Sawyer nearly 10 months after the shooting and showed how far she has come, but also how far she has to go. At the time, she did not speak in complete sentences and repeated her words to make her point.

"No, better. Um, better, better," she said when asked about returning to Washington.

The day after the interview ran, her congressional office released an audio recording that showed she had made progress in her communication skills in the two weeks that had elapsed between the interview and its airing. She read from a script and an aide said it took multiple tries before she was comfortable with the result.

"I'm getting stronger. I'm getting better," Giffords said. "There is a lot to say. I will speak better."

Jared Lee Loughner, 23, who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, has pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from the mass shooting Jan. 8, 2011, outside a Tucson supermarket where Giffords was meeting with her constituents. He is being forcibly medicated at a federal prison facility in Missouri in an effort to make him mentally ready for trial.

Giffords returned to Tucson on Friday from Houston to attend ceremonies to mark today's one-year anniversary of the shooting that killed six and injured her and 12 others.

Her first stop was her office, where she participated in an emotional ceremony to honor slain staffer Gabe Zimmerman. Her staff dedicated a life-size photo of Zimmerman and a memorial plaque that will greet visitors as they arrive. Her husband, Mark Kelly, posted a photo of the couple on a visit Saturday morning to a trailhead outside Tucson named in honor of Zimmerman.

Events will take place throughout Tucson, and Giffords is expected to attend at least one.

Giffords has cast one vote since the shooting. She surprised colleagues in August by returning to Washington to vote for legislation raising the nation's debt ceiling. The debate leading up to the vote had been among the most bitter and partisan of the year. On other votes, she is recorded as not voting.

Giffords' staff consults with her when working on major initiatives, such as trying to fend off the Air Force's efforts to move the 612th Air and Space Operations Center out of Tucson. The staff also works on individual constituent requests, such as helping war veterans and their widows obtain benefits or in securing a Tucson woman's flight out of Egypt during demonstrations in early 2011. Aides say that Giffords now participates in teleconferences with members of her staff about once a week, though the call gets put off occasionally based on her schedule.

Giffords has captivated the nation as she recovers.

"Almost every day, we get more gifts" said Giffords' spokesman Mark Kimble.