WASHINGTON – Although the National Guard says an Arkansas serviceman died "in the line of duty," his widow and four children have been denied death benefits on a technicality.
WASHINGTON – Although the National Guard says an Arkansas serviceman died “in the line of duty,” his widow and four children have been denied death benefits on a technicality.
Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor on Tuesday asked the Senate to clarify the law so that the family of Capt. Samson Luke gets the $100,000 death gratuity and funeral expense benefits they are otherwise due.
“This is a classic example of being pencil whipped by the government,” Pryor said Tuesday on the Senate floor.
Luke, who received a Bronze Star for exemplary service in Iraq, joined the Arkansas National Guard after retiring from active duty in 2007.
He died midway through a training exercise at Fort Chaffee during one of the coldest weekends in 2010.
After spending most of Saturday at Fort Chaffee, Luke was given permission to go home to Greenwood for the evening, about a 12-mile drive away.
He was expected to return Sunday for the remainder of the training but died that evening.
After his death, the military sent his widow, Miranda Luke, a notice that she was entitled to the $100,000 death gratuity and up to $8,000 in funeral costs.
Luke was buried at Fayetteville National Cemetery on Jan. 18 – on what would have been his 35th birthday.
Shortly after his burial, Luke’s widow was told that the Army’s casualty and mortuary affairs branch had denied the death benefits. They said Luke was not eligible because he died at home and not “in the vicinity” of the inactive-duty training facility.
The Army has held firm despite a National Guard finding that his death was “in the line of duty” and efforts by the Arkansas National Guard and Pryor on the family’s behalf.
The report determined that strenuous work preformed in adverse weather conditions – combined with a previously undetected enlarged heart – had contributed to his death.
“We are at a standstill over the interpretation of vicinity,” Pryor told his colleagues. Pryor hopes the Senate will add his amendment to a defense authorization bill being debated this week in the chamber. The cost of his amendment to the government was estimated at about $1 million over 10 years.
“That’s budget dust. This is so small it is almost laughable but it is so meaningful to this family and others that might find themselves in this situation,” Pryor said.
In a telephone interview Tuesday, Miranda Luke said that getting the benefits would be “huge” for her family. She is not working and has four children, ages six to 12.
“We were actually given all the benefits and then they were taken away three weeks later,” she said. “The local funeral home has yet to be paid. I would not have made all those arrangements if I did not have signed paperwork in my hand.”
Bonnie Carroll, founder of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, has been following the Luke case for more than a year and believes the family is due the benefits given the sacrifice they have made.
“Those benefits are modest compensation for Captain Luke’s heroic service,” Carroll said. “He chose to serve his country and deployed twice, leaving his very young children at home. That is a sacrifice shared by his entire family.”
The Army did not respond immediately to a request for comment.