Advocates split on bill intended to help Gold Star families

WASHINGTON  (Gray DC) -- Some family advocacy groups are worried Congress is off-base with a bill aimed at expanding rights for Gold Star families.

Getting onto a military base is important for many families who lost a service member, and many lawmakers want to make access easier for some of those families.

Elizabeth Davis, an advocate for military families, said, “We made a promise to those who offered that blank check that if they made that ultimate sacrifice, that we would take care of their families.”
 
Davis said the government can do more to live up to that promise, like by making sure military widows and widowers have lifetime access to military bases.
 
A bill written by Nebraska Congressman, and former Air Force Brigadier General, Don Bacon (R-NE) would give that access to families who lost a loved one in combat, in military circles they’re called gold star families.
 
Bacon said, “Anybody who has worn the uniform feels strongly about this, especially someone who has had to knock on a door and talk to a family’s lost loved ones.”
 
Spokespeople for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, a military family support group, say Bacon’s bill leaves behind families of military members who died in non-combat situations – as Davis’ late-husband did. 

In a statement, Kathy Moakler, the organization’s Director of Survivor Advocacy said, "Although we appreciate the intent of H.R. 3897 and S. 2008, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) is concerned that all eligible surviving family members are not included. The issuance of an access card to only Gold Star family members, those who have lost a loved one in combat, creates a separate class of surviving family members which, in the past, has been divisive. We have other concerns with the legislation but we would hope at the very least that any legislation would include all eligible surviving family members when changes to benefits are discussed, whether their loved one died in combat or by accident or illness while serving our nation."

Though the bill won’t grant Davis permanent base access, she still supports it as a step in the right direction.

She said, “I do know several families who this will make a huge difference for, and i do think you kind of need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.”

Davis does hope families like hers get expanded rights in the near future.
A spokeswoman for Congressman Bacon says his goal is to eventually do just that.

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