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ARLINGTON, Va. — Meighan Adamouski isn’t too proud to accept help.

She needs all the aid she can get since her husband, Army Capt. James Adamouski, died when his Black Hawk crashed in the early days of the Iraq war.

As a 30-year-old graduate student of public administration at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., and living with her in-laws, she’s more than interested in help finding free college tuition uncovered by a self-appointed advocate: Matthew Lesko.

Lesko is the goofy, fast-talking entrepreneur, clad in a purple suit peppered with question marks, who has gained recognition through his television commercials hawking products and services to help people hunt for money hidden in government coffers.

There are billions of dollars in services from job training to health care just waiting for someone to claim — but government agencies don’t advertise them, Lesko said.

But he’s cracked the code and hired a staff to do all the research, for a fee, and usually a hefty one at that, said the 60-year-old former sailor who served three years, two months and nine days, “but who’s counting,” he says.

“I did it for real rich people who wanted to get real richer,” he said of search services that often charged thousands of dollars in fees. Now, he publishes a phone book-sized reference book, also available for sale.

But his services are free to surviving spouses of troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The victims of 9/11 died in an accident, and they got an average of $1.7 million apiece,” Lesko said in a recent interview. “The people who are fighting for our freedoms, their families, they don’t seem to get a whole lot. We have people dying for this country and they and their families deserve every little benefit this country has to offer.

“There’s more than $350 billion given out by federal, state and local governments for so many things, but they don’t advertise so people don’t know about it,” Lesko said.

He’s not too worried about folks who might try to dupe him out of a free search or two. “We’re not going to sniff under anyone’s rug to find if they’re cheating us. If someone’s going to try to take advantage, that’s just terrible.”

Lesko’s offer couldn’t come at a better time, said Adamouski and Kristen Andrade, whose husband, Spc. Michael Andrade, was killed Sept. 24 in Iraq when his Humvee collided with a 5,000-gallon fuel tanker.

Both widows have heard complaints from others who didn’t know about services available to them, such as through Army Emergency Relief.

It came as no surprise to AER’s Greg Mason that surviving spouses have said they didn’t know anything about benefits and services provided, such as interest-free loans.

“If there are a number of spouses who have not heard about us for months, I don’t doubt that. … Generally, it’s the knowledge of the soldier in the military, and whether he takes that home and tells his spouse is iffy at best,” said Mason, the deputy director of finance retired colonel who spent 28 years in the Army.

Andrade is still finding her way, and thinks Lesko might be a good avenue.

“There is so much I don’t know about benefits and all, and I’m sure this could really help,” she said. “When they contacted me, I was surprised. I said ‘Wow, people are actually thinking about us.’ I think this will be helpful to people left behind.”

— More information is available at: www.helpyourself.lesko.com

Surviving spouses can request help by e-mailing: matthew@lesko.com or by calling (301) 929-8400.

DOD, VA offer benefits

Below is a listing of death benefits provided to surviving spouses and children of U.S. servicemembers by the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs:

• A $12,000 tax-exempt death gratuity.• Rent-free government housing for 180 days or the tax-free Basic Allowance for Housing for any portion of the 180-day period if not living in government housing.• Reimbursement of up to $6,900 for burial expenses.• Survivor collects payment of a member’s unused accrued leave.• Servicemembers who don’t otherwise select to reduce or decline coverage, are insured automatically for $250,000 through the Servicemen’s Group Life Insurance program, a government-sponsored insurance program to which members must pay premiums.• The Department of Veterans Affairs pays the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, a tax-free monthly amount of $967, to surviving spouses who do not remarry. Once remarried, the DIC stops. An additional $241 is paid for each dependent child until age 18, with special additional amounts for special needs.• Eligible spouses and children also may be entitled to monthly payments under the Uniformed Services Survivor Benefits Plan. A surviving spouse, or children if there is no spouse or the spouse later dies, of a member who dies while on active duty is entitled to 55 percent annuity of retired pay while under 62 years of age and 35 percent when 62 or older.• The retired pay is determined as the benefit that would have been payable to the member had the member been retired on total disability on the date of death. A spouse loses the SBP entitlement if remarried the under age 55, but it might be reinstated if that marriage ends in divorce or because of death. The spouse’s DIC of $967 is offset from the SBP.• The surviving spouse and dependent(s) may also qualify for up to 45 months of full-time education benefits from the VA.• An unremarried surviving spouse and minor dependents are eligible for space-available medical care at military medical facilities or are covered by Tricare (Medicare after age 65). Dental insurance coverage and full Tricare are extended for three years after the member’s death.• An unremarried surviving spouse and qualified unmarried dependents are eligible to shop at military commissaries and exchanges. Families of retired members retain privileges so long as a spouse is not remarried.• The next-of-kin of a member whose death occurs overseas in a terrorist or military action is exempt from paying the decedent’s income tax for at least the year in which the death occurred. Payments made by the VA are tax-exempt.

— Source: Office of the Secretary of Defense

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