has been breaking news for and about military
people since 1977. After service in the Coast
Guard, and 17 years as a reporter and senior
editor with Army Times Publishing Company,
Tom launched "Military Update,"
his syndicated weekly news column, in 1994.
"Military Update" features timely
news and analysis on issues affecting active
duty members, reservists, retirees and their
families. Tom also edits a reader reaction
column, "Military Forum." The online
"home" for both features is Military.com.
Tom’s freelance articles have appeared in
numerous magazines including The New Yorker,
Reader's Digest and Washingtonian.
His critically-acclaimed book, Glory Denied,
on the extraordinary ordeal and heroism of
Col. Floyd "Jim" Thompson, the longest-held
prisoner of war in American history, is available
in hardcover and paperback.
Readers of Tom Philpott's "Military Update" column sound
July 22, 2005
I concur with Lt. Col. Richard M. Wersel Jr's widow, Vivianne. A death is a death in the military and to deny this widow the additional $238,000 in death benefits to help raise her children is flat wrong.
When will political leaders wake up? Our kids are dying in the combat zone and suffering from stress related to these assignments. They commit their lives for country and we show little sympathy toward them or their families.
Our military personnel are giving their best and they deserve the best.
JOHN LONG, SR
Lieutenant Colonel , USA -Ret.
I wrote my senators that this would happen. This policy is not fair. My spouse is in Special Forces. Men have died during training. As I told lawmakers, any raise in death benefits should be across the board, not based on where the soldier died.
Fayetteville , N.C.
Being a retired Marine of 25 years service, I understand the two-tier death benefit. It would seem very unfair for a family of a Marine who dies in recruit training to receive the same as a Marine who gave his life in combat.
I do not understand, however, denial of a “comfort quilt” to the daughter of any Marine upon his death.
First Sergeant, USMC-Ret.
A two-tier death benefit does not make sense when we all work and fight as a team. True, deployed conditions in a war zone raise the stress-o-meter but so does knowing you are next on the rotation-cycle, or that you've been there, or that you are uprooting your family every two to three years for a less-than-equitable salary. How about the stress of a mandated job/career change just when your children start college, and the wife's career has been subordinated because of moving, or being looked at as a financial risk because you don't have equity built up in a home like all your family, neighbors, and friends.
Also, death is death. It is no more comforting to know a loved one died at the hands of the enemy than from deteriorated health caused by a stressful work life.
VERN E. HASENSTEIN
Commandant of Cadets (AFROTC)
Milwaukee , Wis.
There is no reason to believe Lieutenant Colonel Wersel would not be sent back to Iraq for a third tour. So in the gym, he was training with his primary combat weapon, preparing for harsh conditions encountered in Iraq .
I know how Vivianne Wersel feels. My husband died in 2002 following three years in Kosovo. He died a few months after he returned to the states, apparently after going for a run and falling to his death.
My son and I have been denied so much because of where his death occurred.
ANTONETTE TWO CROW
I am a 26-year retired senior NCO and Vietnam vet. I am appalled by our government's position regarding death benefits. One doesn't have to be a cardiologist to know why this great Marine suffered a fatal heart attack following two tours in Iraq . One only needs to be a combat veteran, or a family member of a combat veteran, to understand the stress and sacrifices endured during a long military career.
The military is ill-advised to tread the path of two-tiered death benefits. After Desert Storm, members of my Air Force Reserve unit were informally divided into those who went to the theater of operations and those who did not. Those who didn't, who were involuntarily sent to Europe to set up medical contingency hubs, were treated as though they had returned from Club Med, while the others were lauded as the ones who “did the job.” It took years for my unit to recover.
I see this issue as similar. The military rewards those who are deployed “in-theater” even though most members have no say in where they deploy. Death benefits should make no distinction as to where the member dies.
As the Marine wife correctly points out, the totality of one's service is what is important, not where you are at a single moment in time.
The two-tier death benefit is still better than the horrible system that existed when my father was killed in the Republic of Vietnam May 5, 1968 . Not only was the death benefit small but they kicked surviving family members out of post housing in a very short time.
My father, Sgt. Glenn E. Nicholson, left behind eight children and a German-born-and-raised wife who spent every day, until she retired, working herself ragged to support us.
As my father told my mother before getting on the plane to Vietnam in 1967, ``Mark my words: If I die in Vietnam I will be nothing more than another dead GI to the American civilian.”
No amount of money will bring my father back, but his service on behalf of America was certainly worth more.
Lt. Col. Wersel's family and countless other troopers who give it their all, often with little complaint, deserve better. I vote for one death benefit payment and make it as large as possible.
I cannot imagine how my wife would take it if this happened to me. I see no difference in where or when somebody dies serving their country. But even if Congress thinks otherwise, how can lawmakers not honor this soldier who did indeed serve in the war against terrorism on multiple occasions? He was a key part in this war, as much as any soldier serving in theatre.
I work in troop retention and we are constantly looking for ways to improve morale. How are we supposed to overcome issues like this?
Sergeant , USA
Unless this officer was killed by enemy fire while lifting weights, the death benefit should be the lesser amount. Also consider that Private Dufflebag's dismal salary to support his wife and kids paled in comparison to the salary of a lieutenant colonel. Is there some greed here?
Because I am a Gulf War , Afghanistan , and an Iraqi Freedom veteran, I assume I should be entitled to compensation (from stress) were I to have a heart attack doing strenuous activity.
You have to draw the line somewhere. A heart attack during PT is not the same as a fatal vehicle accident while deployed, dying from an incident of fratricide or from hostile gunfire.
Based on where he had been, and could be assigned again, Lieutenant Colonel Wersel was in training in the base gymnasium to maintain his top physical condition. Had he not stayed in shape, he would have been derelict in his duties as a Marine Corps officer.
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