Dear Sgt. Shaft:
Providing for the widows and orphans of our fallen heroes should be not only a sacred obligation but a privilege of a grateful nation.
I am writing this letter to ask for your support and representation concerning my military survivor's benefits. I especially need a voice of reason, compassion and justice to address the current policy that penalizes a surviving spouse for practicing legal and lawful marriage after the death of his/ her military spouse. The current policy allows a surviving spouse to practice cohabitation, homosexual partnership, fornication or adultery, and receive all of their survivor's benefits for life, but not legal and lawful marriage. If a surviving spouse is to follow the dictates of their moral values and religious beliefs and practice legal and lawful marriage, they will be stripped of their retirement (SBP before age 55), life insurance (DIC before age 57), and education benefits and health insurance at any age permanently.
My children and I lost our beloved father and husband on active duty from a 100 percent service-related disability at the prime of his life on June 13, 2008.
My husband and I both served as officers in the United States Naval Dental Corps. I completed four years of active duty and four additional years in the Naval Reserves. My husband chose to serve a full career and was serving his 21st year on active duty and was preparing for retirement when he was diagnosed with non-smokers lung cancer. He was told he had two months to live and should get his affairs in order and say goodbye to his family. We have seven children and our youngest was 12 years old.
The only time John was ever exposed to the known environmental causes of this horrific disease was when he was serving and deployed on U.S. Naval vessels. He was still working 12 hour days caring for our troops when he was diagnosed.
In the last hours of his life, he reviewed and signed the necessary documents to assign survivor's benefits to his wife and children. He died comforted in the belief that a portion of his retirement pay he and his family had sacrificed so greatly for would allow him to continue providing for his family in his absence.
The retirement pay John earned during his career as a Navy Dental Officer was made possible by great sacrifice by his family as well as himself. I had to make tremendous sacrifices in my own career path as a dentist to allow John the mobility and family separation to serve where he was called. I had to retake the state dental boards and re-licensure exams at great expense when he was transferred. I had to re-establish myself professionally and limit my hours of practice to be a single parent when he was deployed and throughout his career to compensate for the long hours he worked to get the "mission accomplished." John was poised to join my private practice upon retirement from the Navy. He planned to practice as a civilian for another 10 to 20 years to compensate for the financial sacrifice made during his years of service.
The financial sacrifice our military family made alone has been tremendous; the emotional loss immeasurable. We earned the retirement benefits together. We cannot enjoy them together, but they should be available to our families to support our journey to recovery and healing so that we can thrive and honor the memory and sacrifices made during a lifetime of service.
As a family we have paid the greatest price for the freedoms our fellow Americans enjoy; and yet I am denied the freedom to practice my moral values and religious beliefs to legally and lawfully marry without losing the retirement benefits that John and I sacrificed so greatly for. Again, if I were to choose to practice cohabitation, homosexual partnership, fornication or adultery, at any age, I could keep my benefits for life.
It must be understood that our country has different social norms than it did during World War II. According to the V.A. representatives I have spoken to, most surviving spouses just cohabitate to protect their survivors benefits.
I ask that you magnify your position as a leader of this great nation to call for change in this policy.
I suggest that you get in touch with the Gold Star Wives of America. They have been a staunch advocate for military survivors such as yourself. I hope that by printing your letter, members of the administration and Congress will become more aware of the unfairness that you have portrayed.
• Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, D.C. 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330, call 202/257-5446 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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