11. January 2005 · Comments Off on Tending To Our Lost And Wounded. · Categories: Military, Veteran's Affairs

U.S. News and World Report’s Mort Zuckerman comments on a serious deficiency in our efforts to retain personnel:

America’s commitment to the survivors of the tsunami is a mark of our generosity. The commitment we make to those who voluntarily put themselves in harm’s way to fight our wars is a mark of our character. It is reflected in two ways. The first is the effort to save the wounded. The success is unparalleled. Some 98 percent of the wounded now survive, a mortality rate half of previous wars and down 22 percent even when compared with the first Gulf War, thanks to rapid evacuation, body armor capable of stopping high-velocity rifle rounds, fast-clot bandages, better tourniquets to preserve blood, and access to fresh whole blood that saves many soldiers from bleeding to death. Beyond that, there is a greater understanding than there was just a few years ago of the mental stress of combat, much aggravated in Iraq, where our soldiers face an enemy who masquerades in civilian clothes and bogus uniforms and blows himself up in order to kill and maim. Post-traumatic stress disorder has a debilitating effect on the brain’s chemistry that sometimes lasts the rest of a person’s life, long after the war is over. It can lead to flashbacks, sleep disorders, panic attacks, survivor’s guilt, depression, and emotional numbness.

For all the great advances in battlefield medicine, however, America comes up short when it comes to follow-on assistance to our men and women who bear arms. If an American in military uniform is killed, his or her family receives a one-time tax-exempt death gratuity of $12,000 and rent-free government housing for 180 days, or its equivalent. There is a special group life insurance program that could provide as much as an additional $250,000 if the serviceman or his family subscribes to the program. Compare this with the millions of dollars the families who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks received. Then there is the Survivor Benefit Plan, which pays the spouse of a military person killed in action 55 percent of his or her retirement pay–an amount already so low that it qualifies many military families for food stamps. Just recently, the law was revamped to allow spouses to remarry after age 57 and keep receiving this minimal compensation. But those who remarry before 57 still lose their survivor benefits.

Read the whole thing. We will pay a king’s ransom in reenlistment bonuses to those with highly needed specialties. But yet, when a servicemember is lost, or no longer useful, they or their survivors are given short shrift. This is both unconscionable and short-sighted.

Update: A movement is afoot in congress to increase the death benefit to $100,000, and the life insurance to $400,000, at the same premium.

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