WASHINGTON — The Army honorably discharged Jason Hubbard after both his brothers died in Iraq. Then the Army demanded its money back.
Now, Congress is stepping in. A bill being introduced by more than 180 lawmakers Wednesday ensures that "sole survivors" like Hubbard retain complete veterans benefits even if they're discharged early on compassionate grounds.
"This is something that needs to be fixed," Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., said Tuesday. "Jason is an exceptional man, a patriot."
Undeniably, Hubbard has endured extraordinary circumstances. On Wednesday, he'll appear at a Capitol Hill news conference to help unveil the legislation that some lawmakers are already informally calling "the Hubbard bill."
A Fresno County, Calif., sheriff's deputy, Hubbard joined his brother Nathan in enlisting a year after their brother Jared died in Iraq in 2004. In August 2007, Nathan died when his Black Hawk helicopter crashed.
Jason Hubbard, now 33, secured an honorable discharge in October 2007 under "sole survivor" provisions, which are designed to protect an entire family from being killed in action. He soon ran into trouble. The Army advised him that he had to repay several thousand dollars in an enlistment bonus, since he'd served only 30 months of his promised three-year tour of duty.
The Army further advised Hubbard that he wasn't eligible for transitional health care, even though his wife was pregnant, nor was he eligible for educational benefits under what's commonly called the G.I. Bill. Pentagon officials said they were simply following the rules.
"I don't think anyone meant it to happen this way," Nunes said, blaming the hang-up on mid-level bureaucrats.
In December 2007, Hubbard contacted Nunes' staff and sought assistance. By mid-December, Nunes had called on the secretary of the Army. Whether it was a coincidence or not, Nunes spokesman Andrew House said, the Army quickly backed off on its demands that Hubbard repay the enlistment bonus.
Health care benefits were also extended to Hubbard's wife, under the secretary of the Army's discretion, but some other benefits couldn't be extended. The Pentagon said its hands were tied by the way current law is written. In response, Nunes and others began drafting a new law. California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein has joined with Republican colleagues in crafting an identical Senate bill.
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Pentagon officials have identified 51 servicemen and women who have been discharged under the same "sole survivor" provisions under which Hubbard left the Army.
Currently, "sole survivors" are prohibited from serving in a combat zone. They can remain in the military if they choose. The new legislation specifies that each of the benefits available to honorably discharged veterans be equally available to those who voluntarily leave the service as sole survivors.