- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 13, 2005

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

I just read an article of yours on “Older DIC widows free to remarry.” The statement that caught my interest was that widows who had passed the 57th-birthday mark and had remarried before the new law were taken care of through a provision that gave them the opportunity to apply for reinstatement by December 2004.

I never knew about the law until I read your article. I appreciate your urging Congress to extend the time limit for those who might have been eligible but were not aware of this provision of the law. What steps can I take to encourage this deadline to be extended?

My husband was a Vietnam veteran helicopter pilot and was killed on active duty in a helicopter crash Feb. 18, 1975. Only being 30 years old at the time, I chose to remarry and lost my benefits.

I would appreciate any information you can give me.

Sue O., military widow

Charleston, Tenn.

Dear Sue:

The Department of Veterans Affairs attempted to reach out to you and other surviving spouses. Unfortunately, because the window of opportunity to receive Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) was restricted by time constraints, you and many others are no longer eligible for this benefit. I urge Congress to revisit this provision of the legislation and to extend the deadline to apply for reinstatement.

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

Your answer to Mrs. A. of California was great as far as it went. However, Mrs. A. may get a rude surprise if she follows through with her remarriage plans. It’s true she will retain her DIC benefit, but she also asked about her Navy ID card, access to military bases, medical care, commissary, exchange, etc.

The Navy will cease being a part of her life as all those benefits and privileges will be lost if she remarries. The lesser benefits may be reinstated later if the remarriage ends due to death or divorce, but military medical benefits will be gone forever.

Mrs. A. may qualify for VA health care benefits through CHAMPVA, but they are far less generous than Tricare For Life.

I speak to many widows who learn too late that remarriage has drastically and unalterably affected their military benefits. Please make sure that Mrs. A. is fully informed before she decides about her second chance at happiness.

Thanks for all you do for service members and their loved ones.

Regards,

Retired U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Bud Schneeweis

Director, Benefits Information Department,

Military Officers Association of America

Dear Bud:

You are absolutely correct.

When a remarriage ends by death or divorce, the unremarried widow may apply for a military ID card that permits exchange, commissary and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, but no military medical benefit. She may be eligible to apply for benefits under the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA).

Shaft notes

The Sarge is looking forward to attending a book event at the National Press Club March 30 at 6:30 p.m. featuring Katherine M. Skiba, author of “Sister in the Band of Brothers.” The event will include a question-and-answer session and a book signing. This riveting memoir provides a vivid you-are-there account of her experiences with the Army’s legendary 101st Airborne, the division celebrated for its heroism in World War II as the “Band of Brothers.”

When U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq in March 2003, our soldiers weren’t the only ones who put their lives on the line: so did 600 “embedded” journalists, including Mrs. Skiba.

Mrs. Skiba, a writer and photographer, was the sole female civilian among the 2,300 soldiers of the 159th Aviation Brigade, whose pilots flew Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters into the thick of battle.

Taking readers across the wind-blown deserts of Iraq and into cramped 70-man tents, where personal space barely exists and tempers can flare, she deftly and sympathetically portrays her brothers and sisters in arms — rigid commanders, gung-ho warriors and daring aviators, as well as intelligence officers, mechanics, medics and cooks, among many others. She details her dealings with the soldiers, her clashes with a battalion commander, and her friendship with a lieutenant colonel who helped keep her sane.

Meantime, she tells of the journalist husband she left behind and the encouragement he gave her when the going got rough.

The risks were very real for her and anyone else who covered or fought in the war, even in its early days, long before triumph trailed off into something less than permanent victory. Her story testifies to the courage it took to endure such risks, while acknowledging the inevitable costs of war.

Mrs. Skiba is a Washington, D.C., correspondent for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, for which she has reported since 1982. The winner of 24 journalism awards, she has covered world events from the violence-charged Gaza Strip to the crumbling Soviet Union to the uneasy streets of postwar Kosovo.

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, PO Box 65900, Washington, D.C., 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330; call 202/257-5446; or e-mail sgtshaft@bavf.org.

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