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Senate Armed Services Committee Includes ‘Sole Survivor’ Langauge in FY 2009 Defense Authorization Bill

-Language takes step toward fixing flaws in “sole survivor” policy, honors the Hubbard brothers of California-

Washington, DC – The FY 2009 Defense Authorization bill includes language to ensure that “sole survivors” who leave military service receive improved separation benefits.

The language was crafted after a bill introduced in the Senate by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), and in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressmen Devin Nunes, R-Calif. and Jim Costa, D-Calif.

This language partially addresses the situation of Jason Hubbard, of California, an Army veteran and sole survivor who lost his two brothers in Iraq. Hubbard, a Fresno County sheriff’s deputy, was required to leave the combat zone, and was denied separation benefits when he left the military early.  Jason Hubbard is one of 51 sole survivors identified since the September 11, 2001, terrorists attacks.

“This is the first step toward ensuring that Jason Hubbard and other sole survivors receive the full separation benefits they deserve,” Senator Feinstein said.  “The Senate Armed Services Committee addressed the issues under its jurisdiction, but it is not enough.  We will not stop until sole survivors receive full separation benefits.  They have sacrificed enough already.  They should not suffer more at the hands of a cold bureaucracy.”

"I am pleased our colleagues recognized the importance of this legislation, and I was humbled to be involved in this process," said Senator Chambliss, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.  "The Hubbard brothers' story demonstrates that the current policy is flawed and must be fixed, and I hope this will move quickly to the Senate floor.  Most importantly, I applaud Jason Hubbard for his courage and steadfast determination in bringing this issue to light."

“I think today's action in the Senate is a great step forward as we work to make good on our commitment to sole survivors,” Rep. Nunes said.  “Senators Feinstein and Chambliss are working hard to make the Hubbard Act law, and I appreciate their efforts.”

"This is great news for Mr. Hubbard and all the other sole survivors who have served in our military.  While it's unfortunate that the full bill was not included, I am hopeful that the House will also act quickly on this important legislation," Rep. Costa said.

Background

Under the Department of Defense’s “sole survivor” policy, service members who lose all their siblings in war are not allowed to return to a combat environment. The policy – portrayed in the film, “Saving Private Ryan” – is intended to protect American families from losing all their children to war.

But recent experience with the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan shows that the policy is deeply flawed. Sole survivors who leave military service early under the policy have been asked to repay all or part of their enlistment bonuses. They have also been denied access to the separation benefits veterans need when transitioning out of the Armed Forces, including the GI Bill, transitional veterans health care, and the Veterans Home Loan Guarantee Program.

The Hubbard brothers of California illustrate the flaws with this program.

In November 2004, Jared Hubbard, a Marine, was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq. Six months later, his brothers Nathan and Jason Hubbard enlisted together in the Army – to honor Jared and to serve their country.

Nathan and Jason Hubbard served in the same unit in Iraq. Last August, the brothers were returning from a scouting mission in two Blackhawk helicopters south of Kirkuk. The helicopter carrying Nathan crashed, and he was killed. Jason Hubbard’s helicopter landed nearby, and he was ordered to help secure the crash site.

Jason Hubbard was required to leave the combat theater because he had become a “sole survivor.” When he voluntarily separated from the Army under this policy, he was asked to pay back his enlistment bonus. He was also denied transitional health care and the GI Bill.

The Secretary of the Army personally intervened to resolve Jason Hubbard’s health care and bonus issues. But he is still not allowed access to the GI Bill unless he goes through the lengthy process of changing his discharge code.

Following is a summary of the language included in the 2009 Defense Authorization bill.

The provisions of the bill passed by the Senate Armed Services Committee in the 2009 National Defense Authorization Act, would allow a service member, whether enlisted or officer, who voluntarily separates under sole survivorship to qualify for the following (even if they have not fulfilled their military commitment) provisions which are retroactive to 9/11/2001: 

  • Authorizes separation pay for the time of fulfilled commitment;
  • Authorizes transitional healthcare coverage for 120 days for future sole survivors; 
  • Authorizes use of the Commissary, Base Exchange, and Morale, Welfare and Recreation for two (2) years; 

These are the benefits that come under the Senate Armed Services Committee jurisdiction. 

Many of these benefits are afforded to those who involuntarily, honorably separate from the military.  It is fair for those who have given the greatest sacrifice to be afforded the same benefits. 

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