- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 25, 2001

Just when you thought bureaucratic stupidity and robotic adherence to "the rules" couldn't possibly get any more ludicrous, the rude awakening cometh. Two days before Thanksgiving, The Washington Times reported that the Navy has denied a pension to the widow of Lt. John Russell, who helped rescue the USS Cole in Yemen last October after Osama bin Laden's thugs did their dirty work.
Lt. Russell, age 41, suffered a fatal heart attack while helping another Naval officer trim trees in a Jacksonville, Fla., back yard on Nov. 11. Three days later on the afternoon of his wake Lt. Russell's widow, Mary, was told that she would not be receiving his lifetime pension of approximately $1,500 a month. "It makes me very angry," said Mrs. Russell, who is now left alone to raise the couple's 10- and 14-year-old boys. "He gave up his youth for the Navy. And I sacrificed a lot waiting for him to come home."
Lt. Russell, a 20-year Navy veteran, enlisted on Aug. 14, 1981, under an arrangement permitting him to report for duty on Dec. 14 of that year, which is considered the official start of his service. This means that at the time of his death, he was a mere 33 days short of qualifying for his Navy pension.
Late last year, he was on the USS Tarawa in the Arabian Sea when a bin Laden suicide attack was staged against the USS Cole, which was moored in the Yemeni port of Aden. Seventeen American sailors perished in that attack. Upon arriving at the scene, Lt. Russell commandeered a Yemeni tugboat and maneuvered it over to the crippled Cole. As Islamic radicals jeered at him from the nearby shore, Lt. Russell maneuvered the ship to safety.
His former commanding officer, Capt. Mike Miller, now works for President Bush in the White House. When he learned of the pension problem, Capt. Miller started making phone calls to all the appropriate folks in the Navy bureaucracy. Time and time again, he has been told that nothing can be done for Lt. Russell's widow and their two children. Meanwhile, Lt. Richard Tucker, the "benefits coordinator" assigned to the Russell family case, is working furiously to assemble a package of benefits from the Veterans Administration and the Social Security Administration.
But there is absolutely no other way to put it: The treatment visited upon Mrs. Russell and her sons is nothing less than shabby, disgraceful and outrageous. Lt. Russell was and is an authentic hero who put his life on the line for his fellow sailors and his country. It's time for Mr. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to take immediate action to ensure that the Russell family gets the full amount of his pension.


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