Originally created 02/03/05

Soldier benefit gathers support



Some area legislators and some family members of local service members killed in Iraq said they support efforts to increase the amount paid to the families of service members killed during the war.

Freshman U.S. Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga., has signed on as a co-sponsor to proposed legislation, pushed by House Democrats, to increase the payout from $12,400 to $100,000.

"It's a sad business to have to reckon with," he said, "but it's very important that we face reality and realize that $12,000 does nothing to compensate the next of kin for just the necessary expenses associated with loss of a loved one."

Other proposals also exist.

Pentagon officials favor increasing life insurance coverage for service members.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., said he also supports efforts to increase the benefits.

"Even when I was in the Army, it was $10,000," said Mr. Norwood, a Vietnam veteran, "and I thought then that it wasn't a reasonable amount. And $12,000 is not a reasonable amount in 2005."

During a Wednesday morning telephone conference call, U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said he would support measures to increase death benefits to service members' survivors.

He said Congress will have to consider exact amounts and whether to extend the proposal to families of all personnel killed while in the military or only to those whose loved ones were killed in combat.

Mr. Chambliss said that an increase in benefits will affect the federal budget.

"Any time we increase a benefit, it costs a significant amount of money," Mr. Chambliss said. "We've got to be very judicious."

Whatever the decision, no amount of money can compensate for the loss of a loved one killed in war, said Felix Johnson, the father of Spc. Nathaniel H. Johnson, a soldier who died in January 2004 in a helicopter crash in Iraq.

Still, he said he thinks the proposal is needed.

"It's something that's been well-needed for a long time," Mr. Johnson said.

Phyllis Scarborough, the mother of Marine Lance Cpl. Michael P. Scarborough, of Washington, who died in October 2004 in an enemy attack, said she also supports the idea.

"I think it's a wonderful idea, especially for the married ones that have family," she said. "It's long overdue."

"I think it's the least we could do," Mrs. Scarborough said.

Reach Jeremy Craig at (706) 823-3409 or jeremy.craig@augustachronicle.com.