Promises, Promises: War widows’ futile fight

By Kimberly Hefling, Associated Press
Mideast edition, Friday, February 12, 2010

WASHINGTON (AP) — For a decade, war widows in matching yellow suit jackets and hats quietly and persistently have knocked on Capitol Hill doors seeking an end to the “widows’ tax,” a government policy that deprives them of benefits from their husbands’ military service.  They are always warmly received, but that’s where the hospitality ends. Despite pledges of help from scores of federal officials — including President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — their long quest remains unfulfilled.  Every year since 2005, the Senate has voted to eliminate the policy that denies widows the ability to collect both a military survivor’s benefit and the full annuity bought when their military husbands were alive. But in each of those years, the fix was dropped when House and Senate negotiators wrote the final bill in private.  “What we always hear is that there is just no funding for us. ‘Sorry, this is not your year,'” said Vivianne Wersel, chairwoman of the Government Relations Committee at Gold Star Wives of America. Her husband died of a heart attack in 2005, days after returning from his second tour in Iraq. “What happens behind closed doors, we get thrown under the bus.” The widows’ tax is a law that won’t allow surviving spouses to receive the retirement pay due them when their spouse died from a cause related to military service, and at the same time collect the full annuity — essentially an insurance policy most of their spouses opted to buy. They paid an average of 6.5 percent of their retirement pay in premiums, often $100 or more a month. Because one benefit is subtracted from the other, affected surviving spouses lose about $1,000 a month on average. There are about 54,000 survivors who are affected by the policy, whose spouses served in conflicts from World War II to Afghanistan, and that number could grow. The widows say politicians have promised time and time again to help them, but they don’t.  read more


WH Reviews No-Letter Policy for Military Suicide

Published: December 9, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House says it is reviewing a long-standing policy that prevents President Barack Obama from sending a condolence letter to families of service members who have committed suicide.  Some families want the policy overturned and are lobbying the White House to do so.  Press secretary Robert Gibbs said Wednesday that the policy is under review. He could not say when it would be completed.  Obama speaks often about signing condolence letters to the families of each U.S. service member killed in action. Gibbs said the president requested the policy review because he cares about service members who take their own lives.

Employment Assistance Available to Wounded, Ill and Injured Veterans, Families

Story Number: NNS091123-16
Release Date: 11/23/2009 2:54:00 PM
By Bruce Moody, Fleet and Family Support Program, Commander, Navy Installations Command Public Affairs

WASHINGTON (NNS) — The Navy provides no-cost consultations from employment specialists to veterans, including the wounded, ill and injured, and their families though the Family Employment Readiness Program (FERP).  The Fleet and Family Support Program, which manages FERP, is observing Warrior Care Month.  “We have employment experts around the fleet who are motivated in assisting all veterans and their families as they transition from military to civilian life,” said Panshella Cole, FERP manager.  Although FERP is not a job placement service, its employment specialists provide individual counseling, workshops and seminars which provide current strategies on job searches, interview techniques, dressing for success and resume writing to prepare people for the challenges and opportunities of today’s changing job market.  “Oftentimes, when veterans transfer from the military to the civilian sector, it is difficult to put that military experience into civilian terms,” Cole said. “Our goal is to assist these veterans in creating a resume that is civilian friendly.”  For veterans and families whose transition involves moving to a new location, they are encouraged to contact the Fleet and Family Support Center in that area. The employment specialists there can discuss the job environment and opportunities and can assist with fine tuning resumes and applying for jobs before arriving.

The Hell Of PTSD

By Tim McGirk / Colorado Springs Monday, Nov. 30, 2009

In retrospect, disneyland wasn’t an ideal family-vacation spot for Mark Waddell, a Navy SEAL commander whose valor in combat hid the fact that he was suffering from severe mental trauma. The noise of the careening rides, the shrieking kids–everything roused Waddell to a state of hypervigilance typical of his worst days in combat. When an actor dressed as Goofy stuck his long, doggy muzzle into his face, Waddell recalls, “I wanted to grab Goofy by the throat.”   It has long been taboo in military cultures for soldiers to complain about the invisible wounds of war. After a distinguished career as a SEAL commando, Waddell reached his breaking point following the worst disaster in SEAL history, in June 2005: a Chinook helicopter filled with eight SEALs and eight Army aviators was shot down while trying to rescue four comrades trapped by a Taliban ambush in the Kunar Mountains in Afghanistan. Waddell, who was stationed at the unit’s base in Virginia Beach, had the agonizing task of sorting through the remains of his dead men–young warriors he had fought beside, mentored and led into battle. He also had to tell their families of the deaths. One wife, he recalls, “just ran away from me, ran down the street. I could understand.” By Waddell’s reckoning, he attended more than 64 memorial services for his friends and comrades in arms. “Finally,” says Waddell, “I raised my hand and said I needed help.” The doctors’ diagnosis: Waddell was suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)–known in previous conflicts as combat fatigue.  For Waddell, the diagnosis was a long time in coming. Several years earlier, his wife Marshéle Carter Waddell and their three kids had noticed that everyday things like a whining vacuum cleaner could trigger his rages. Even his kids riled him. “I’d come back from stepping over corpses with their entrails hanging out, and my kids would be upset because their TiVo wasn’t working,” he recalls. Arriving home from one combat mission, Waddell insisted on sleeping with a gun under his pillow. Another night, he woke up from a nightmare with his fingers wrapped around his wife’s throat, her face turning blue. Marshéle had to change the sheets every morning because of her husband’s night sweats. “I had an emergency evacuation plan for myself and the family,” says Marshéle. “You feel physically unsafe.”,9171,1940694,00.html#ixzz0XL0MRtPf

Senate Passes Benefits For Vets’ Caregivers

Nov. 19, 2009
Senate Passes Bill Offering Medical Benefits, Stipends To Wounded Vets’ Caregivers

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Senate on Thursday unanimously passed legislation that would provide monthly stipends and medical benefits to family members who stay home to care for severely injured veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The bill also includes travel expenses and training for the caregivers, improved health services for women veterans and rural areas, and nearly $1 billion for veterans medical facilities.  The Congressional Budget Office estimates the measure would cost nearly $4 billion over the first five years, most of it to pay for the new caregiver benefits.  Although the bill had bipartisan support, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., held it up for weeks trying to persuade senators to pay for the new spending by making cuts in other programs. He tried without success Thursday to amend the bill to cut funding for the United Nations.  “If, in fact, we want to honor our veterans … we ought to have the courage to make hard choices about how we pay for it,” Coburn said.  But Coburn ultimately supported the bill after his amendment failed. The measure passed on a 98-0 vote.  Supporters, including veterans groups such as the Wounded Warrior Project, argued that the spending is part of the cost of war. Democrats said Coburn and others who were quick to support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan without paying for them up-front should be just as eager to deal with the consequences.   “We cannot now turn our backs on the obligations to those who fought,” said Sen. Daniel Akaka, chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and the bill’s sponsor.  Supporters also argued that the caregiver benefits will save money in the long-run as more veterans stay home instead of moving into expensive nursing facilities.  Lawmakers limited the new caregiver benefits to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to keep down the cost.

Vets need drug treatment, not jail

By William H. McMichael – Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Nov 5, 2009 14:25:31 EST

Treatment, not incarceration, should be the first option for veterans who commit nonviolent drug-related offenses, a group advocating alternatives to the nation’s “war on drugs” said Wednesday in a new report.   The Drug Policy Alliance report also called on government agencies to adopt overdose prevention programs and policies for vets who misuse substances or take prescription medicines, and urged “significantly expanded” access to medication-assisted therapies, such as methadone and buprenorphine, for the treatment of dependence on opioid drugs used to treat pain and mood disorders.  During a conference call with a Drug Policy Alliance representative and seven other advocates for change in the treatment of veterans, the military’s Tricare health benefits program came under fire for what a New York-based physician and specialist in drug addiction treatment called its failure to pay for veterans’ and family members’ opioid dependence treatments.  The treatments, said Robert Newman of the Rothschild Chemical Dependency Institute, are endorsed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Institute of Medicine.

Sen. blocking bill: Objection is cost, not vets

By Rick Maze – Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday Nov 4, 2009 13:03:46 EST

The senator holding up consideration of an omnibus veterans’ health bill doesn’t hate veterans and their families, but he does hate the idea of creating new benefits without paying for them, his spokesman says.  Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., is using Senate rules to block a vote on S 1963, a major veterans bill, unless he has the chance to offer amendments to pay for the new benefits it creates, especially stipends, health benefits, counseling and other programs aimed at family caregivers of seriously wounded combat veterans.  Coburn spokesman John Hart said the senator has questions about the new benefit, wondering why, if it is such a good thing for families, it is limited to helping only those of Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans. But the main objection is cost.  “We are at a point in our history when we have to start paying for things,” Hart said.  Coburn has been in discussions with Senate leaders about the bill, but he objects to plans to pass the Veterans’ Caregiver and Omnibus Health Benefits Act of 2009 by voice vote and without amendments, Hart said. He is willing to let the bill be brought up for debate, as long as he gets the chance to amend it to provide a way to pay for the new benefits.  One of the ideas would be to divert unspent money for economic stimulus projects to cover veterans benefit costs, Hart said. Other ideas, like cutting other programs, are also under consideration, Hart said.  Hart’s comments come as 13 major military and veterans’ groups are urging Senate leaders to move forward despite Coburn’s objections. There has been no word if this might happen, but there has been a flurry of discussion about what it might take to get the Senate to approve the measure before Veterans’ Day.