Friday, July 27, 2007

House Passes Provision to Help Parents of Soldiers Receive Military Death Benefits

The mother of a Navy reservist killed in Iraq is a step closer to being able to collect her daughter's military death gratuity. Iowa Congressman Tom Latham authored legislation aimed at helping the Jaenke family from Iowa Falls, Iowa. The U.S. House of Representatives had already accepted language from Latham that provides service members the option of designating caretakers as the recipients of all or part of the military death gratuity.

But the House had yet to provide a "look back" provision to assist the 143 families stuck in the same red tape as the Jaenkes. The new measure passed the House on Monday and now moves to the Senate.

As reported by Iowa Independent on May 24, the bill was crafted by Latham, a Republican representing the 4th District, in response to the parents of Jaime Jaenke (see pic), who was killed by a roadside bomb in June 2006 in Iraq. In a note written to her parents, the single mother had made it clear whom she wanted to be her beneficiary: “There is a smaller policy that goes to you that is for $100,000. That is for you to raise Kayla [Jaenke’s surviving 10-year-old daughter] with and $25,000 of that goes to the barn.”

To help ensure her wishes, Jaenke designated her mother, Susan Jaenke, the beneficiary of the death benefit on her official paperwork. Unfortunately, federal law only allows a spouse or a child to be named the beneficiary, and the money for the latter must be kept in a trust until the beneficiary turns age 18.

"Many service members who are single parents rely upon grandparents or other caretakers to care for their children while they are deployed," said Latham. "It is a fundamental duty of Congress to ensure that the children of fallen service members are cared for. We owe this to our service members who have made the ultimate sacrifice."

Latham introduced H.Con.Res. 175 to give these families legal standing. The bill gives state courts the discretion to redistribute death gratuity funds to caretakers if the courts find a clear expression of intent was left by the service member. The measure must now be approved by the Senate, before moving on to President Bush’s desk.

Iowa Gov. Chet Culver congratulated the House on Tuesday for passing Latham’s bill. In June, Culver sent a letter urging Iowa Sens. Tom Harkin, a Democrat, and Charles Grassley, a Republican, as well as Senate leadership to pass legislation that would extend military death benefits to families such as the Jaenkes. Culver also sent a similar letter to governors across the country to raise awareness of this issue.

“The brave men and women overseas deserve to know that, if something tragic were to happen, we will do everything we can to take care of their families back home,” said Culver in a statement. “I appreciate Susan Jaenke raising this issue with our office, and I am pleased that the U.S. House has acted on behalf of our military families. I now encourage the Senate to quickly pass this legislation so we can immediately help military families facing financial hardship.”

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