<\body> Stories in America: Government Treats War Widows with Utter Disrespect

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Government Treats War Widows with Utter Disrespect

This is criminal, but should we be surprised? The Bush cabal didn't properly plan for their botched war. Why would they have a plan in place to deal with widows?
It's the military's most solemn duty: caring for the families of soldiers killed in battle. But, as WTOV9 discovered, too many war widows feel like they've been wronged by the system that is supposed to protect them.

From the burial process to collecting money from the military and other agencies, Iraq war widow Holly Wren faced a challenge at every turn.

"There was no healing time. I wasn't able to grieve at all," she said. "It's hard to shuffle from office to office after you deal with something like this."

Wren's ordeal started at the sacred place where her beloved husband, Lt. Colonel Thomas Wren, was buried. She says the date on his headstone at Arlington National Cemetery is wrong, and she does not believe he was buried with all of the medals he earned.

Then she had to go to battle for her benefits. Her housing allowance was half of what she was owed. She waited longer that she was supposed to for her husband's retirement money and death benefit. She also had to hire a lawyer and go to court so their infant son, Tyler, could be a beneficiary.

She said, "The paperwork sat on someone's desk for months, the benefits were not explained properly."

Wren's assigned casualty officer tried to help untangle the bureaucracy, but he didn't know all of the benefits she should receive and the two of them felt like they were cobbling information together. Other people she encountered in the system were downright rude.

"I was treated like a nuisance at times," she said, "We're just a job to them, and it's so much more than that."

Members of Congress have been hearing similar complaints from widows like Holly Wren for years. California Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher is on the committee that recently ordered the Government Accountability Office to investigate. It found that while most survivors do get the benefits owed to them, there are system-wide problems that lead to confusion and frustration.

Tauscher said the country owes its troops and their families much more.

"That is a heinous bureaucratic tangle," she said. "I believe each of these families should have a benefits advocate cutting through the red tape and working this for them. That is the least we can do."

The Department of Defense is trying to make improvements, and will be instituting new casualty assistance policies that include more training for casualty officers. The Army has set up a call center and the Marine Corps has assigned long term case workers to help survivors. DOD issued a statement that reads in part, "Each and every situation and family member concern is taken very seriously and reviewed with a view towards fixing the problem..."

Holly Wren has now joined other widows lobbying for a centralized, one stop, casualty office to help survivors. She's hoping that by sharing her story, she'll inspire change, and other widows won't have to go through the same difficulty.

She said, "I just want them to make the process better, because unfortunately there are more of us to come."


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