Gold Star spouses can lose financial assistance if they remarry, but veterans in Congress hope to change that

popular
President Trump recognizes Gold Star families on Memorial Day, 2018. Photo: Sgt. Amber Smith/U.S. Army

Editor's Note: This article by Patricia Kime originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

When Sgt. 1st Class Ofren Arrechaga was killed in Afghanistan in 2011, his wife Seana vowed to follow the plan the couple had for their family: She would remain a stay-at-home mom to raise their son, now 11.


She continues to do that, thanks to the compensation and health benefits provided to widows and widowers of service members who die in the line of duty.

Seana Arrechaga was 22 when her soldier died, and she continues to grieve. She doesn't date. But not simply out of respect for Ofren. She doesn't see the point, she says, because dating could lead to marriage. And if she remarries before she turns 55, she would lose thousands of dollars a month because of a law that would stop her annuity payments when she tied the knot.

"A lot of people assume that we are well taken care of," said Arrechaga of Gold Star spouses. "And we are, to a point. But to not be able to remarry, to lose benefits, seems unfair."

Three combat veterans in the House of Representatives want to change the law and allow military widows and widowers to retain their survivor benefit payments if they remarry – a proposal spouses say would let them raise their families and retain a connection they want to the military.

The bill, H.R. 1911, or the Sgt. First Class Brian Woods Gold Star and Military Survivors Act, would also extend child care assistance to surviving spouses and give continued access to base facilities such commissaries, exchanges and fitness centers to those with dependent children who remarry .

And it includes a provision to cover the cost of transporting the bodies of those killed in combat to their hometowns for services and later, to a national cemetery, if the family requests it.

Currently, the government pays for one trip.

The legislation is needed, said co-sponsor Michael Waltz, R-Florida, because it would ensure that "Gold Star families of our fallen are cared for by giving their children and spouses the lifelong benefits they deserve."

"The knock on the door that initiates a family into the Gold Star community is the most dreaded moment in a military family's life," Waltz said in a release."From that moment forward, these families deserve our best and most meaningful commitment in honor of their loved one's sacrifice for our freedom and security."

"Gold Star families should have the peace of mind that comes with knowing child care and funeral expenses are taken care of and that they will receive the nation's lifelong financial support," said Rep. Seth Moulton, a Massachusetts Democrat and co-sponsor.

The bill is named for Woods, a Special Forces senior medical sergeant and former Marine who served with Waltz. He died Aug. 16, 2009, from wounds received during a patrol in Ghazni province, Afghanistan, and was survived by his wife Elizabeth and two young daughters, one aged 5 and the other 8 months at his death.

Retired Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Joe Kent lost his wife, Navy Senior Chief Cryptologic Technician (Interpretive) Shannon Kent, in a suicide bomb attack in Manbij, Syria, in January. As a military retiree, he will retain access to military bases and health care for life.

But he was stunned to learn during the course of his casualty assistance communications that he – and all surviving spouses – lose monthly income if they remarry. He said the law itself reads like something "straight out of the 1950s."

"If a woman remarries, the guy she marries is now responsible for her. It's that kind of mentality," Kent said. "If you look at the stats, most are women widowed in their 20s, so you are telling a young lady, with maybe with a kid or two, she will be financially penalized."

For Gold Star spouses who have found new loves, some have gotten married and forfeited their annuities. But many are opting to live with new partners without exchanging vows to ensure they will continue to receive benefits.

Arrechaga said if the bill becomes law, it would show survivors that the country continues to want to care for them. "I just don't even think most people know that this is an issue," she said.

Similar legislation was proposed in both the Senate and the House in 2017 but never made it out of the chambers' respective Armed Services Committees.

In 2016, a measure was defeated largely based on the price tag, estimated at $1 billion over 10 years.

H.R. 1911 has yet to be assessed for cost. It would provide annuity payments to those surviving spouses who have remarried starting with the month the legislation was signed.

"At the end of the day, is the government really saving money by taking away that stipend? There's not a ton of survivors," Kent said.

Co-sponsor Rep. Don Bacon, R-Nebraska, said he is committed to ensuring that the legislation passes this year. It builds, he said, "on important progress made last year."

"Our Gold Star and surviving family members deserve a commitment for life," Bacon said.

This article originally appeared on Military.com

More articles from Military.com:

SEE ALSO: A Powerful Look At How Gold Star Families Mourn Their Fallen Kin

WATCH NEXT: Nashville Gold Star Family Moment

A Purple Heart and Silver Star (Atlanta Journal-Constitution photo)

An Army veteran from Columbus claimed he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after a deployment in Afghanistan that earned him a Purple Heart and Silver Star.

As a result, he collected $76,000 in benefits for the mental condition.

He admitted Wednesday, however, that all of that was a lie.

He was not deployed to Afghanistan, never suffered PTSD and never received the two honors, which are among the highest bestowed for military service.

Read More Show Less
Rep. Duncan Hunter (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

SAN DIEGO — Days after Rep. Duncan Hunter pleaded guilty to a federal felony related to a yearslong campaign finance scandal, he has finally stated explicitly that he will resign from his congressional seat before the end of his term.

"Shortly after the holidays I will resign from Congress," Hunter, R-Calif., in a statement. "It has been an honor to serve the people of California's 50th District, and I greatly appreciate the trust they have put in me over these last 11 years."

Read More Show Less
A Coast Guard Aids to Navigation Team Kodiak boat crew displays their new 38-foot Special Purpose Craft - Training Boat in Womens Bay Sept. 27, 2011. (Coast Guard/Petty Officer 2nd Class Charly Hengen)

A collision between a Coast Guard boat and a Navy vessel near Kodiak Island, Alaska on Wednesday landed six coasties and three sailors to the hospital, officials said.

Read More Show Less
(U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Jamarius Fortson)

The Navy has identified the two Defense Department civilians who were killed in a shooting Wednesday at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard in Hawaii.

Read More Show Less
(U.S. Navy photo)

A shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida has left four people dead, including the gunman, law enforcement officials said at a Friday news conference.

The shooter and two victims were killed at the base and another victim died after being taken to the hospital, said Chip Simmons, deputy chief of the Escambia County Sheriff's Office.

Another seven people remain hospitalized, including two sheriff's deputies who engaged the gunman, Simmons said at Friday's news conference. One was hit in the arm and the other was shot in the knee. Both are expected to recover.

Read More Show Less