Military widow: Suspension of death benefits is 'wrong'
Posted October 9, 2013
Updated October 10, 2013
Fayetteville, N.C. — Nearly seven years have passed since Teresa Priestner’s husband, Army Chief Warrant Officer John Priestner, died in a helicopter crash in Iraq.
It’s been seven years since she and her two daughters longed to be there when his coffin arrived at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where the bodies and remains of service men and women killed overseas are received.
“That’s what I wanted,” said Priestner, who lives near Spring Lake in Harnett County. “I wanted it so badly, and I fought hard for it, along with other wives that weren’t able to. And we made that happen, and now that’s taken away from us.”
Each family of a fallen warrior receives a $100,000 benefit from the government to pay for funeral and travel expenses. It also covers the in-between time from the end of a military salary to the start of survivor benefits.
"Without it, I couldn’t have buried my husband,” Priestner said.
That benefit became a casualty of the partial government shutdown – at least for a few days. The U.S. House voted unanimously Wednesday to restore those payments, and the Senate is expected to act on the bill soon.
Initially, Congress had passed a bill to pay the military during the stalemate, but the Defense Department warned the death benefit would vanish if not specifically addressed.
It wasn’t, and that was an inexcusable oversight for Teresa Priestner.
“It should never be an oversight for when these guys go over there, put their lives in danger and get killed,” she said. “There’s been 11 families since this shutdown that have not received those benefits, and that’s wrong.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Wednesday that the government has partnered with the Fisher House Foundation to provide families with the full set of benefits, including the $100,000 payment. He said he was "offended, outraged, and embarrassed" about the lapse.