Politics & Government

Sole-survivor law in place, but not quite ready for vets

WASHINGTON -- Madera County resident and Marine Corps veteran Nick Ramey is one frustrated sole survivor.

Congress passed a law providing benefits to veterans like him. President Bush signed it. But as Ramey is now learning, news can percolate slowly through bureaucracies. Consequently, Ramey and his wife, Crystal, are still awaiting the sole-survivor benefits theoretically available under the newly signed Hubbard Act.

"Most of the people we talk to don't even know what it is," Ramey fumed. "It's almost like the bill was signed and scooted under the table with no action to be taken."

In truth, the Ramey family's frustrations may be resolved in relatively short order once the Pentagon receives all necessary documentation. The congressional office of Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa, is running interference. While a Pentagon official directly familiar with the issue could not be reached Tuesday, there are indications a solution to the Ramey family's problem may only be a phone call or two away.

Still, the family's undeniable anxieties in recent weeks show what happens when congressional promises outpace a lumbering bureaucracy.

"No jobs, no money in the bank, and no assistance," Crystal Ramey said. "Why is it no one knows anything about the Hubbard Act and how to help us?"

Signed by President Bush in late August, the Hubbard Act extends health, education and separation benefits to sole-survivor veterans who have accepted early discharge. The bill is named for the Hubbard family of Clovis, two of whose sons died in Iraq.

After Jared and Nathan Hubbard died, surviving brother Jason Hubbard accepted an early honorable discharge from the Army. The military has long permitted these early discharges to preserve what's left of a devastated family. Until the Hubbard Act was signed, though, the military also denied standard benefits to those leaving the service early.

The benefits restored under the Hubbard Act include separation pay, transitional health care, access to enlistment bonuses and education assistance, among others.

"This is really a wrong that needs to be made right," Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, said during House debate.

Bush signed the Hubbard Act on Aug. 29, with Jason Hubbard and other members of the Hubbard family in attendance at the White House. In theory, it took effect immediately.

The Pentagon initially estimated the Hubbard Act provisions would cover about 55 sole-survivor veterans discharged since Sept. 11, 2001, as well as about 20 additional veterans annually going forward. Nick Ramey thinks he is among those deserving coverage.

Ramey's stepbrother Branden died in Iraq. He was a Marine lance corporal, killed near Fallujah in November 2004. Nick Ramey enlisted in the Marines a month later and served with the 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion in Iraq. He subsequently took an early honorable discharge in September 2007.

Nick Ramey is now 21; he and his wife have a young child, and they have struggled. They have not been to a doctor or a dentist in more than a year. Hearing about the Hubbard Act, Crystal Ramey and Nick's mother, Sandy, figured some help could be close at hand. Over the past month, it hasn't been.

"We have spent countless hours on the phone with numerous people and offices, including the Department of Defense, Marine Corps headquarters and the veterans association," Crystal Ramey said by e-mail. "No one seems to know anything about the Hubbard Act, nor who we should even begin to talk to about claiming our benefits."

The Rameys eventually contacted Radanovich's office, which determined that military offices were not yet fully informed of the Hubbard Act provisions. Nick Ramey could even be the first sole-survivor Marine to be seeking the benefits.

By Tuesday afternoon, though, Radanovich's office indicated the right Pentagon offices had been located. The Rameys were preparing to submit the discharge papers needed to show eligibility.

"Something needs to be done to help families like us," Crystal Ramey said.