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Soldier who lost both brothers in Iraq denied benefits after separation

Retired Spc. Jason Hubbard, left, listens as lawmakers outline plans to ensure troops discharged from military service under the “sole survivor” rule receive full benefits. From left, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., join him.

LEO SHANE III / S&S

By LEO SHANE III | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 18, 2008

WASHINGTON — After both his brothers were killed serving in Iraq, Spc. Jason Hubbard left the Army under the “sole survivor” rule and moved back to California near his parents’ home.

But when he applied for transitional health care and other veterans benefits, he was denied for ending his military tour a year earlier than he had promised.

Army officials also kept his last paycheck, claiming they were recouping some of his $6,000 enlistment bonus for not fulfilling his contract. “I couldn’t believe they were doing this to a family that had sacrificed so much already,” he told reporters at a Capitol Hill news conference Wednesday. “I’m the last one in my family. I didn’t feel like we had more to give.”

On Wednesday, lawmakers introduced new legislation forcing defense and veterans affairs officials to prevent separation penalties and award full benefits to troops who leave the service under the sole survivor rule, calling it an issue of fairness and recognition of their loss.

“This policy was well-intended … but it is also deeply flawed,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. “It cuts off sole survivors from benefits they would have otherwise received. If they leave the military early, they are denied health care, the GI Bill, and veterans home loans.”

Since 2001, according to Department of Defense statistics, 51 servicemembers have qualified for discharge from service or exemption from combat zone deployments under the rule, which applies to any servicemember who is the only remaining son or daughter in a family that has suffered another combat death.

Hubbard joined the Army in 2005 after his brother Jared was killed in a roadside bomb attack. He said he considered remaining in even after his brother Nathan was killed in a helicopter crash last August, but he chose to leave after speaking with his family.

After learning about the benefits problems, Army officials told him they could change his duty codes to get health care for him and his pregnant wife, but his sole survivor status would be taken off his file. “I didn’t want to change my status just to accommodate the bureaucracy,” he said.

Lawmakers behind the new legislation said they didn’t believe Army officials were acting maliciously — Army Secretary Pete Geren worked with Hubbard to get him transitional health care — and blamed outdated policies for the problems.

“It’s a 60-year-old rule,” said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga. “The Army is just carrying out policies that have been in place. So it’s time to update it.”

House sponsors Reps. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., and Jim Costa, D-Calif., said they have already had preliminary discussions with chamber leaders about the issue and hope to pass the legislation quickly. The bill would be retroactive to 2001.


What is the rule?

The Defense Department’s sole survivor rule allows troops to request a noncombat assignment or a discharge from the military service if:

They are the only living son or daughter in their family; Their father, mother, brothers or sisters were killed, captured, or physically disabled while serving on active duty. For example, if two sons are serving overseas and one is killed, the other can request a discharge under the rule. But if they had two sisters serving as well, neither could apply for the exemption.

However, each of the services have additional regulations regarding troops with family members killed in the line of duty.

Source: Department of Defense