For military widows, many of them young, stay-at-home mothers, the shock of losing a husband is often followed by the confounding task of untangling a collection of benefits from assorted bureaucracies.
Sometimes it is simply the Pentagon's massive bureaucracy that poses the problem. In other cases, laws exclude widows whose husbands died too early in the war or were killed in training rather than in combat. The result is that scores of families -- it is impossible to know how many -- lose out on money and benefits that they expected to receive or believed they were owed, say widows, advocates and legislators.
The rest of the story makes me want to scream.
Today's NY Times has an absolutely heartbreaking article that describes the red tape, the arbitrary laws that were passed, the loopholes to these laws, and other nonsense that is just another example of how little care there is for the people who serve in the military, those who are left behind when a soldier is killed in action, and the struggles the widows have in obtaining any money or benefits as they are trying to put their shattered lives back together.
And even though there have been some changes to the laws in this area, you would bet that the level of consideration given to the impact of these laws, or what the families of fallen soldiers must be going through when they find out that they have lost a loved one, or how many babies will grow up without a father, or how many mothers, fathers, wives, sisters and brothers' lives were turned upside down pales in comparison to the amount of time wasted on flag burning, gay marriage, a woman's nipple on TV, covering up the illegal spying on Americans or cutting more taxes on corporations and the ultra wealthy.
Which makes the following stories even more heartbreaking and can only make me more outraged at the vile disgusting priorities of Congress, the Pentagon, most Republicans (and even a good number of Democrats), and most of all, the American people who support this illegal war, shout at those who oppose the war - calling us "traitors" or "supporting terrorists over our troops".
To all of you, not do I only give you the one finger salute, but I dare you to read on and then tell me how the following describes a policy of "supporting the troops".
Where to start? How about with the story of Holly Wren, who is now a widow with a 6 month old:
As Holly Wren coped with her 6-month-old son and the sorrow of losing her husband in Iraq last November, she assumed that the military's sense of structure and order would apply in death as it had in life.
Instead she encountered numerous hurdles in trying to collect survivor benefits. She received only half the amount owed her for housing because her husband, one of the highest ranking soldiers to die in Iraq, was listed as single, childless and living in Florida -- wrong on every count. Lt. Col. Thomas Wren was married, with five children, and living in Northern Virginia.
She waited months for her husband's retirement money and more than two weeks for his death benefit, meant to arrive within days. And then Mrs. Wren went to court to become her son's legal guardian because no one had told her husband that a minor cannot be a beneficiary. "You are a number, and your husband is a number" said Mrs. Wren, who ultimately asked her congressman for help. "They need to understand that we are more than that."
"You are just a number and your husband is a number." Gee, I wonder where I have heard that before.... These "numbers" are those who were shipped off to the other side of the world to fight for a cause they thought was noble. A cause that turned out to be all lies. Lies by people who have reckless disregard for human life. And no sense of compassion. By people who are pretty much vile criminals.
While we are on Ms. Wren's story - you know the widow with 5 children whose husband was the highest ranking officer to be killed in Iraq - how much more wrong could the paperwork be (damn, I sound like Chandler Bing there - "could the paperwork BE more wrong")? All this and she STILL can't get all of the benefits that she is due. Benefits that she is due because her husband died as a result of lies.
How about the plight of Laura Youngblood?
Just days after her husband was killed in Iraq by a roadside bomb, Laura Youngblood, who was pregnant with their second child, got another piece of sobering news from the Navy: Her mother-in-law, who had been estranged from the family for several years, would be receiving half of her husband's $400,000 life insurance payment.
Nearly a year later, Mrs. Youngblood, 27, is still trying to persuade the Navy that the military's accounting department lost her husband's 2004 insurance form naming her and her son as co-beneficiaries, along with the rest of his pre-deployment paperwork. The only forms the Navy can find are from 2003, listing an old address for her husband, Travis, an incorrect rank and no dependents.
The military paperwork was in such disarray, Mrs. Youngblood said, that her husband went months without combat pay and family separation pay because the defense accounting service did not realize he was in Iraq, where he was detached to a Marine Corps unit.
When the Navy said there was nothing it could do, the Marine Inspector General's office stepped in to investigate, forwarding findings to the Navy Inspector General's office. "These were my husband's dying wishes: to take care of his children," said Mrs. Youngblood, who has hired a lawyer to help her. "You honor his wishes. That's his blood money."
This just makes me want to puke. The bureaucracy being so poor and tangled that only some pre-deployment paperwork is available. Don't you think that some sort of electronic recordkeeping would help alleviate this mess? Isn't this a BIT more important than undertaking a massive and illegal data mining project to spy on all Americans' calls, emails, financial transactions or other activity?
The laws, as indicated above, are even still arbitrary and contain enough loopholes to make even the biggest lobbyist proud. For example, depending on when a soldier died in action, there is either more or less in money and benefits available to the widow and family. A perfect example of this is Shauna Moore:
Shauna Moore was tending to her newborn, Hannah, on Feb. 21, 2003, when she learned that her husband, Sgt. Benjamin Moore, 25, had been shot during a rifle training exercise at Fort Hood, Tex. Months later, after her grief began to subside, she noticed that she was not entitled to the same retirement benefits as more recent widows with children.
Congress allowed certain widows to sign over to their children their husband's retirement benefit, sidestepping a steep so-called military widow's tax. But the law applies only to the widows of service members who died after Nov. 23, 2003. Mrs. Moore is one of an estimated 430 spouses with children who are ineligible.
If that option were available to Mrs. Moore, she would collect an extra $10,000 a year until Hannah became an adult.
"It makes a difference, if you are a single mom," she said.
Um, don't you think that passing a law that would remove the military widow's tax is a bit more important than another few billion in cuts in corporate taxes or removing the estate tax? How about having Congress pass something that would actually ease the pain for ALL military widows?
There are more stories in the article, which I strongly urge that you all read. It is too sad to reproduce all of them here (and probably runs afoul of the "fair use" provisions). However, they range from lost insurance, lower death benefit payments, poor health care for families of the fallen soldiers to lack of transition payments for many widows who have children.
This is best summed up with a quote from Dawanna Kimble, whose husband died in Iraq on his 3rd deployment and there were paperwork issues that led to her to pull one of her four children out of private school, take a "dead-end" job and live with her children in a friend's empty house:
"It has left me frustrated and very bitter," Mrs. Kimble said. "We have already sacrificed our husbands. Our children are fatherless. For them to struggle financially is another blow."
So please, tell me again how this is supporting the troops?