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Romney Proposes To Expand Benefits for Military Families

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Files legislation to ease the financial burden on Guard members and their survivors

Governor Mitt Romney today filed legislation to provide greater financial assistance to the families of Massachusetts National Guard members killed in the line of duty.

"We reserve our deepest respect and admiration for those who volunteer for service and give their lives to help keep our nation secure," Romney said. "Now is the time for the people of Massachusetts to respond by offering a helping hand to the brave men and women of the Guard and their families."

Romney's proposal would increase the death benefit awarded to survivors of Guard members killed in the line of duty from $5,000 to $100,000. The change would be made retroactive to October 2001 to include members of the Guard who served in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. The death benefit would apply to individuals killed in state or federal actions.

"No money in the world is going to bring back my husband, but with the current benefits that my family receives it's really hard to make ends meet," said Diane Rooney, whose husband, Sgt. 1st Class Robert Rooney, was killed in the line of duty on September 25, 2003 in a combat zone in Kuwait. "Every day I receive calls and e-mails from widows whose husbands were killed in the line of duty and they tell me that the current benefits aren't enough to provide for their families. I know a lot of families are hoping to see things made right."

The Romney legislation also provides for state payment of life insurance premiums for Massachusetts National Guard troops who are on active federal duty. The policy, offered through Soldier's Group Life Insurance, provides up to $250,000 in death benefits. Currently, troops must cover premium costs for this optional insurance, which can cost up to $195 per year. Romney would have the state pay for the insurance.

The Governor's proposal complements legislation at the federal level recently proposed by President Bush. If signed into law, the federal death benefit would rise from $12,000 to $100,000. If a member of the Massachusetts National Guard were killed while federally activated, that means survivors would be eligible for both death benefits for a total of up to $200,000.

"No amount of money is enough to compensate a family member for their loss, that's not what this is about," said Major General George W. Keefe, the Adjutant General of the Massachusetts National Guard. "We owe it to these family members to honor their sacrifice, to show that we care. This bill will help us do that."

The Massachusetts National Guard serves a dual mission supporting the Department of Defense overseas and protecting the citizens of the Commonwealth during special security events and domestic emergencies such as natural disasters.

The Governor's bill also proposes to make permanent the $1,500 annual annuity to Gold Star surviving spouses who receive the US Department of Veterans' Affairs Dependency and Indemnity Compensation. This annuity has never been codified, leaving it subject to the vagaries of the annual budgeting process. Romney's proposal would also expand the annuity to benefit the spouses of those injured while on active duty but who ultimately die from non-service-related causes. His plan would also treat National Guard call-up as creditable service toward a state pension.

"This bill shows a commitment by the Commonwealth to care for those who are currently serving on our behalf by easing somewhat the financial burden of military service," said Tom Kelley, Secretary of the Massachusetts Department of Veterans' Services. "It also offers a token of appreciation to the families of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for this nation on the battlefield," he added.

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