Staff Editorial: Dues for the lost

By Editorial Board

While there is much contention over the validity of the Bush administration’s rationale for the Iraqi campaign, the U.S. public has been united in its support of the U.S. Armed Forces. And, in rare form, both political parties appear united in expressing their gratitude to the fallen.

Congress is now moving to increase the military death gratuity – a tax-free check paid to the survivors of dead soldiers such as Nathan Moore, 22, of Champaign – from $12,420 to $100,000 andprovide another $150,000 for the soldiers’ life insurance payouts. The payment will be made retroactive so that those who have already received the payments since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom will benefit from this increase. There will also be updates to the financial and medical benefits for soldiers and their families.

The 275 members of the Transitional National Assembly, elected by the people of Iraq who braved the polls despite the threats of death, will soon be taking their first steps toward establishing a sovereign and central government. The assistance of the U.S. troops will be critical in the newly elected legislature in establishing the rule of law and exerting full authority throughout the country.

U.S. casualties – 1,559 as of Tuesday – will continue to rise as the insurgents attempt to bring the nascent assembly to its knees. But they must remain in Iraq because of that very fact. It is imperative for the Iraqi state to firmly plant its roots so the soldiers won’t have to go back to Iraq again.

Considering the occupational hazard that the troops face each day, they are woefully underpaid. While the military does give stipends for housing and other basic needs for married troops – which will continue to be paid to the widow or widower until they remarry – it’s probable that the survivors will struggle to make ends meet.

As U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., told the Associated Press, this nation must be generous to the survivors of these men and women who have died. Of course, there can never be a price tag on human life, and financial benefits will do little to ease the pain of losing their loved ones. However, it will allow the families to deal with their sorrows with dignity instead of worrying about the costs for the casket.

Furthermore, the premiums for the soldiers’ life insurance should be paid for by the taxpayers, not deducted from the paychecks of the soldiers. It is simply unethical to ask these brave men and women to put themselves in harm’s way, and then make them insure themselves for protecting this country.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., was right when he said, “Our nation should stand with family members who have suffered the ultimate loss.” War is hell, many U.S. troops say. But they prepare themselves for battle for our sake. The least we can do is to honor them as best as we can and make sure that the fallen can rest in peace knowing that their families will be taken care of.

It is only fitting that President George W. Bush will be proposing this plan to Congress. If there’s one thing that the Commander-in-Chief should do, it is to come to the aid of the families of the fallen.