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    Gold Star Families Demand Honesty and Care Amid Ongoing Grief

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    When a service member enlists in the military, they are promised that if the ultimate sacrifice is made, their country will take care of their family. For centuries, this unspoken vow has been a cornerstone of military service. But as we delve into the experiences of Gold Star families, we find a distressing pattern of struggle and unfulfilled promises, leaving many to navigate a labyrinth of bureaucracy in their time of immense grief.

    APG Gold Star Family Event – Oct. 6, 2021” by Aberdeen Proving Ground is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    Marcie Robertson, who lost her husband, Army Sgt. 1st Class Forrest Robertson, to combat in Afghanistan, has spent the last decade trying to keep her family whole. “I just remember talking to him on that Friday… I could just hear the smile in his voice. He was happy. He was doing what he wanted to do. And then on Sunday is when they knocked on my door and told me that he was gone,” she recounts.

    White House Reception to Honor Gold Star Families” by The White House is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

    Like many surviving spouses, Robertson has faced the annual reminder that remarriage could strip her of the survivor’s benefits—financial support that is often essential to maintaining stability for a bereaved family.

    White House Reception to Honor Gold Star Families” by The White House is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

    The current policy, under which Gold Star or surviving spouses lose benefits like the Survivor Benefit Plan, Dependency and Indemnity Compensation payments, and Tricare health coverage if they remarry before 55, is increasingly seen as outmoded and inconsistent with contemporary societal norms.

    White House Reception to Honor Gold Star Families” by The White House is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

    This policy, steeped in a past era when women rarely worked outside the home, fails to recognize the modern reality where many widows and widowers must grapple with the loss of income from both their deceased spouse and their own career sacrifices. “Surviving spouses are military spouses first,” says Ashlynne Haycock-Lohmann, the deputy director for government and legislative affairs for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) and a Gold Star daughter herself. “They’ll never make up for that lost income,” she laments.

    Governor and First Lady Baker, Lt. Governor Polito dedicate Gold Star Families Tree 12.04.18” by Office of Governor Baker is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

    Despite their struggles, these families do not seek pity; they seek the recognition and support they were promised. They fight not just for themselves but for the future of all military families. In an effort to address these issues, the Love Lives On Act was introduced, with bipartisan support, to allow survivors to retain certain benefits regardless of remarriage age.

    President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump Hold a Gold Star Family Reception” by The White House is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

    Rep. Dean Phillips, a Gold Star child, has been a vocal advocate for the bill, understanding firsthand the impact of these policies on families like his. “Why would a country that so deeply values that service, why would an American culture that so deeply values family, why would we penalize someone for remarriage?” he questions, challenging the status quo.

    APG Gold Star Family Event – Oct. 6, 2021” by Aberdeen Proving Ground is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    The bill’s introduction has rekindled hope among many that the nation will finally make good on its promise to service members and their families. The Department of Veterans Affairs, while supporting the bill, notes that the financial implications—often cited as a deterrent—are overestimated, hinting at potential cost savings over time.

    SMDC honors Gold Star Families” by U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command (SMDC) is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    But for Gold Star families, support is not solely about legislation; it’s also about respect and transparency from those in the highest echelons of power.

    APG Gold Star Family Event – Oct. 6, 2021” by Aberdeen Proving Ground is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    This was starkly evident during a House Foreign Affairs Committee roundtable discussion where Mark Schmitz, father of Marine Lance Cpl. Jared Schmitz who was killed in the Kabul airport attack, condemned President Biden’s handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan. “You, sir, stole their lives, their futures, their dreams and have ripped apart 13 families,” Schmitz said, demanding accountability and transparency from the administration.

    White House Reception to Honor Gold Star Families” by The White House is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

    The outcry from Gold Star families extends beyond individual policies; it encompasses a desire for recognition, truth, and respect for their loved ones’ sacrifices. Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has echoed these sentiments, stressing the obligation to offer “transparency, honesty, and accountability.”

    Gold Star Family Tree Dedication 11.29.16” by Office of Governor Baker is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

    As a nation, we owe it to these families to not only acknowledge their losses but also to ensure that their sacrifices are not in vain. As we move forward, the conversation must continue, ensuring that the vow made to our service members is honored in both letter and spirit. It’s time for those promises to be more than whispered words—it’s time for them to be shouted from the rooftops and reflected in our actions, policies, and the unwavering support for those who have given so much.

    Relevant articles:
    We Broke Our Promise to Take Care of Gold Star Families, Military.com
    A Letter to the Mama With the Gold Star, Military.com
    Gold Star Families Vent Frustration With Biden And His Administration, HubPages

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