Local News

Some Military Families Concerned About Disparity Of Death Benefits

Posted April 25, 2002

— The government is promising to compensate the families of the thousands of people who died on Sept. 11. The government also promises to take care of military families if their loved ones die in the line of duty, but there is a huge disparity and that has some families questioning the system.

After 21 years in the Army, Lt. Col.

Rennie Cory

was killed in a helicopter crash while searching for missing American servicemen in Vietnam. More than a year after his death, his wife and four children are still adjusting emotionally and financially.

"You do see a definite loss in pay by what your husband was making at the time," said Andrea Cory, Rennie's widow.

The government gave Cory money for funeral expenses and a one-time $6,000 death gratuity. Half of that amount is taxed. She also receives about $900 a month from a death indemnity clause, but that will end if she remarries. Her two children under the age of 18 also get about $200 a month.

In addition, Cory had a retirement account, but his widow cannot receive the full amount because there is a cap. This, compared to the $250,000 to several million dollars in taxpayer money the families of Sept. 11 victims are eligible for under the Victims Compensation Fund.

"What upsets me is I think we need to rethink what we do for surviving spouses and children of the military," Cory said.

Cory said she does not want to come across as greedy or bitter. Neither does Sheila Harriman. Her husband, Special Forces soldier

Stan Harriman

, was killed in Afghanistan just a few months ago.

"Money is not going to bring my husband back," Harriman said.

Still, Harriman questions why her husband should be worth less than the other victims of terrorism.

"He put his life on the line every single day for our freedom and yet what he's getting for his family is basically leftover, it's pennies comparatively," Harriman said.

Congress is taking steps to better compensate military families. Following the events of Sept. 11, lawmakers passed a bill that will bring several hundred dollars more a month to a deceased soldier's family.

"Once a soldier succumbs to a war or to become deceased, the Army will automatically retire him and he'll receive a larger amount," said Joyce Land of the Personal Affairs Branch at Fort Bragg.

Cory's family is not eligible because he died before Sept. 11. His wife admits her husband chose to do what he did, but she said he did not choose to die.

"How do we honor him? How do we do that," Andrea said. "It's not just him. It's anybody who sacrifices their life for their country. How do we honor them? what are we willing to do for them?"

Many people who lost family members on Sept. 11 say they are not happy with the amount the government is offering them. What they finally receive is offset by many factors, including their life insurance and pension fund. They also have to agree not to sue.

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