U.S. Senator Mark Pryor credits an Arkansas widow for fixing a glitch in the law that currently denies military families death gratuities should their loved one pass away at home during weekend drill training. The final version of a broad defense bill was completed Monday evening and is expected to pass the Senate and House of Representatives within the next two weeks.
Pryor said the Luke provision in the final bill clearly states that a reservist's family is entitled to death benefits should the service member die during an authorized stay at their home during inactive duty training. While pleased about the fix, members of the Armed Services Committees who settle differences between the two chamber's bills did not retain the retroactive clause to help the Luke family. Pryor added that he is optimistic ongoing discussions with the Secretary of the Army will lead to a positive result for the Luke family in the coming days or weeks.
Captain Samson Luke was a committed and decorated active-duty officer who deployed for combat in Iraq twice and continued to serve as an Arkansas Army National Guardsmen. During a required training weekend at Fort Chaffee, Luke was authorized to spend Saturday night with his family at home, twelve miles away from base, and return to the training site the next morning. He passed away that evening, January 10, 2010 from a heart condition, leaving behind his wife, Miranda, and four young children. The Army determined that because Captain Luke passed away at home, not on base or at a local hotel, the family would not be eligible for the $100,000 death gratuity or funeral expense benefits they would otherwise receive.
"Miranda Luke and her four kids have dealt with a lot over the past two years, from losing their husband and father to facing ongoing uncertainty over military benefits they are due," Pryor said. "It's been an honor to team up with Miranda so we can ensure families facing similar situations are taken care of financially. I'd also like to see a better result for the Luke family, and I think we'll get there soon."
Pryor said he was disappointed that the conferees did not include language awarding the Purple Heart to the families of Private William "Andy" Long and Private Quinton Eqeagwula. He highlighted legislation introduced by his Arkansas colleagues Senator John Boozman and Congressman Tim Griffin last week during a homeland security hearing about homegrown terrorism. Several members expressed their support to include this language in the defense bill, even though it was not in the original Senate or House versions. Pryor will continue to support a legislative fix to see that these families receive the Purple Heart.