Lawmaker Presses for Survivor Benefits for Medal of Honor Recipients' Families

Maj. Gen. Bradley S. James, commander of Marine Forces Reserve and Marine Forces North, presents the Medal of Honor flag to Sgt. Alfredo Cantu Gonzalez’s mother, Dolia Gonzalez, at the Freddy Gonzalez Elementary school in Edinburg, Texas, Jan. 14, 2019. (U.S. Marine Corps/Cpl. Tessa D. Watts)
Maj. Gen. Bradley S. James, commander of Marine Forces Reserve and Marine Forces North, presents the Medal of Honor flag to Sgt. Alfredo Cantu Gonzalez’s mother, Dolia Gonzalez, at the Freddy Gonzalez Elementary school in Edinburg, Texas, Jan. 14, 2019. (U.S. Marine Corps/Cpl. Tessa D. Watts)

The chief sponsor in Congress of the long-overdue Medal of Honor for Marine Gunnery Sgt. John Canley is backing a bill to support the families of recipients of the nation's highest award for valor.

Rep. Julia Brownley, D-California, said that, under current law, the special pension now amounting to about $1,366 per month awarded to Medal of Honor recipients does not extend to their survivors and ends with the death of the recipient.

At a House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee hearing Wednesday, Brownley said she is backing a bill introduced in March by Rep. Conor Lamb, D-Pennsylvania, "to amend Title 38, United States Code, to provide payment of Medal of Honor special pension under such title to the surviving spouse" or other family members of a deceased Medal of Honor recipient.

Brownley said she was inspired to back the bill after meeting with Gold Star Mother Dolia Gonzalez, whose only son, the legendary Marine Sgt. Alfredo Cantu "Freddy" Gonzalez, died in the brutal 1968 battle of Hue City in Vietnam and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

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"Although her only child had given his life for our nation in battle and Ms. Gonzalez has worked incredibly hard to support herself, she still struggles to make ends meet," Brownley said in a statement.

"While this bill won't fix the past for Ms. Gonzalez, it could help make the difference for other Gold Star families who make such a great sacrifice for our nation. This is the least our nation can do for those who have shouldered so much," she added.

Canley, now a retired sergeant major, served as a gunnery sergeant in Company A, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, 1st Marine Division, with Gonzalez. Canley was with Gonzalez when he was killed in a fight at the Jeanne d'Arc Roman Catholic Church in Hue.

Canley was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions in Hue. Brownley was the chief sponsor of a bill to lift the five-year limitation on recommendations for the Medal of Honor to upgrade his award. He would ultimately receive the Medal of Honor in 2018.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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