- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 30, 2005

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

I am the widow of Sgt. Benjamin M. My husband was killed during night qualifications at Fort Hood, Texas, on Feb. 21, 2003. He was shot in the back by a fellow service member and died instantly. After months of investigation, it was determined the commanding officers were responsible for Ben’s death.

Since Ben’s death, there have been many changes and improvements to the benefits provided to surviving family members. Unfortunately, due to the date on which Ben was killed, my daughter and I have been excluded from some of these improvements.

For example, spouses of active-duty personnel killed after Nov. 23, 2003, have the option of signing their Survivor Benefit Plan over to their children so they can receive the payment without being subject to the SBP/DIC offset. Currently, this option is not available to Hannah and me. As a result, we do not receive SBP because it is completely offset by the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation.

Also, in January 2005 families with children began to receive an additional $250 DIC for the 24 months following the service member’s death. Because Ben had died 22 months earlier, we received this benefit for two months rather than the full 24 months.

Clearly, the benefits offered to military survivors are inconsistent. This is an inequality that needs to be resolved. The same benefits should be provided to all survivors eligible for benefits as a result of military activity after Oct. 7, 2001. These inequities can be resolved by making all benefits retroactive to Oct. 7, 2001.

Sincerely,

Shauna M

Proud wife of Sgt. Benjamin M

Cleves, Ohio

Dear Shauna:

I urge Congress to review and take action to correct this inequity.

Shaft notes

• Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson recently began the “Coming Home to Work” initiative that will assist returning veterans in finding jobs in the civilian work force.

About 200,000 men and women separate from military service annually. Unfortunately, young, recently separated veterans suffer significantly higher unemployment rates than other veterans in general or their non-veteran peers.

The VA initiative focuses on linking Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to existing resources through local and regional job markets — regardless of where they separate from and where they return to or the career they choose to pursue. It is a comprehensive intergovernmental and public-private alliance that will make sure these members leaving the service are not at a disadvantage when they return home from the war on terror.

Information will be available via the Internet and will provide career counseling and planning services to veterans who need it.

• Founders of Operation Homecoming USA have announced that plans are well under way for Welcome Home 2006. Last year’s event was held in Branson, Mo.

“The impact on those vets who attended last year’s event and the healing that occurred mandated a repeat performance,” said Gary Linderer, Vietnam veteran and one of the founders of Operation Homecoming USA. “A new corporation, Operation Homecoming Branson, has been established to carry on the work started by last year’s organization. We’ve added a number of new events to this year’s homecoming.”

Rob Frank, executive producer for the event, said he is excited about the national entertainers who have committed to help make this second homecoming a huge success.

“Our Vietnam vets and their families are in for a very special homecoming this year,” said Barb Linderer, executive vice president of Operation Homecoming Branson. “Everyone who attended last year’s event shared a marvelous experience.

“It’s a shame these men and women had to wait so long to receive the homecoming they deserved. They are special, and they deserve to be treated that way. That is why we selected Branson, Missouri, to host this event. We know that the people of Branson will treat them special. It’s a way of life here.”

For more information about Welcome Home 2006, go to www.welcomehome2006.org or call 800/335-4587.

• 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 [email protected]

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