For veterans, Memorial Day has a very different meaning than it does for most Americans. As a veteran of the wars in Kosovo and Iraq, it is a day of reflection and remembrance like every day since I have returned. While many will enjoy the nice weather, have barbeques, and dip into a pool for the first time this year, we Iraq veterans will spend the day thinking about more than our friends we lost in battle, but also about those who survived them.
How are the wives and the children that our fallen have left behind? Have they received what they need? While the children of the fallen in Vietnam have lived out most of their lives, those who have survived the fallen from our most recent conflicts have not. We, as a nation, are not doing all we can to help provide for them.
The Department of Veterans Affairs offers the family of a fallen servicemember additional financial aid if they have dependent children left behind, through the Dependent Indemnity Compensation (DIC). Until 2005, that compensation was roughly $250 per month.
In 2001, a report by the VA, commissioned by Congress, recommended that DIC payments made for those with dependant children be raised by $250 per month for the first five years after a servicemember's death. Unfortunately, it took four years for Congress to act on that recommendation. Additionally, by the time Congress got around to instituting the increase, it did not take into account any cost of living adjustment, and only instituted a higher payment for dependents for the first two years after death, not five.
This means that any children of the roughly 2300 of troops who died in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2001 and 2005, received no increase in their DIC prior to January, 2005. Rachelle Arroyave, a mother of three children in California, lost her husband Jimmy, a Marine Staff Sergeant in Iraq in April, 2004. Jimmy had been in the Marines for ten years before his death. Because the increase in the DIC was not made retroactive, Mrs. Arroyave never received more than $2200 that should have been paid to her. Mrs. Arroyave, who was a stay-at-home mom, now will be taking a job and has enrolled in school so she can better provide for her and Jimmy's children in the future. But, right now, every dime helps.
"I'm not living a luxurious life," she says. "I could have used that money to help pay for clothes and food for my children."
Even for those spouses supporting children who lost their husband or wife after the increase was enacted, there is still substantial injustice. First, because Congress instituted an increase for three years less than recommended, families of the fallen with children will receive $9000 less than they should. In the case of Mrs. Arroyave, extending a retroactive five year increase would mean over $11,000 for her and her children.
Also, by not adjusting the $250 increase for inflation and cost of living, families are now losing out on $30 a month, or $360 a year. Maybe that doesn't sound like a lot to many, but for a mother struggling to make ends meet after her husband died in war, that money could mean new clothes and school supplies for her kids.
There is something immoral about jilting kids out of compensation they are due, just because their father was killed in the war on terror before January, 2005. There is no reasonable economic argument that can be made against adequately providing for those dependents that troops who die in service to their country leave behind. Congress should immediately take up legislation to adjust, extend, and make retroactive the DIC children's payments. Rectifying this unfairness must be a priority.
Veterans of Vietnam have always made an oath "never to let another generation of soldiers be forgotten," now more than ever our newest generation of veterans need our help. Perhaps helping this generation of troops will help us all on Memorial Day, ease our guilt of survival. Their death is a gift to our freedom.
But, this Memorial Day, between the hotdogs and the beach, I hope Members of Congress will join us, not just in remembering those who we have lost in war, but those survivors who need the aid of a grateful nation, now more than ever. The entire veterans' community is watching to see how they support these 21st century American Patriots.