“Behind closed doors at the Ft. Hood army base on Tuesday,” writes WaPo’s Dan Froomkin, “President Bush got an earful from some Iraq-war widows, who told him that the way the government is treating them is disgraceful.” . . . more below:

“I just told him it was very wrong,” one of the widows, Linnie Blankenbecler, 47, told me yesterday. “I was not intimidated by the president. My hardest reality was the death of my husband.”

Bush spent more than three hours Tuesday meeting with 33 families of soldiers who died in Iraq. But the meetings were closed to the press and the White House only released sketchy details about what his interactions were like.

Since the press wasn’t allowed in, Froomkin called up Linnie Blankenbecler:

“I love the U. S. and I am proud of the way my husband died, but I think the way they are treating the families now is a disgrace to my husband and what he believed,” she said.

There are two primary ways in which survivors of military personnel killed in action receive benefits: The Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP), which is based on time and service, and Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC), which provides a flat monthly payment for two years after a service-connected death.

Blankenbecler is most upset about two things.

One is the rule that widows call the SBP-DIC offset, which actually takes away a dollar from one benefit for every dollar they get in the other.

“It’s disgusting,” Blankenbecler said.

The second is a provision in a bill Bush signed in December 2003 that added an extra $250 per dependent child to the DIC payment. But widows whose husbands died before the effective date — Jan. 1, 2005 — saw little or nothing of that benefit.

Blankenbecler said that’s grossly unfair.

“I told him I was very disappointed that he would sign something like that,” she said. “I know that he doesn’t understand everything that he signs, completely. So he asked one of his aides if he knew which bill I was talking about, and he told the guy to check into that.

“And he said he was sorry that I was disappointed, and that there’s so many bills out there. I just got the impression that he didn’t know which one I was talking about, and he probably didn’t realize what he had done.”

I think Mrs. Blankenbecler should check out what John Kerry got passed preliminarily in the Senate yesterday, and then consider if she should still be a Bush supporter:

Senator John Kerry has won preliminary approval for an effort to improve death benefits for military families.

[T]he senate passed a Kerry proposal to allow military families to stay in military housing for a full year after the death of a spouse.

The Chamber also approved giving families of servicemen half -a-million dollars in total death benefits when a family member dies while on active duty.

Kerry says he got thousands of emails from military families after he made his amendments public earlier this week.”

”This is the beginning of a larger effort to do right by our military families,” Kerry told the Boston Globe.

Froomkin wonders “what Bush would say — or has said — faced with a widow who didn’t support the war.”

It might have happened on Tuesday if widow Shelann Clapp had been invited to meet with him. But she wasn’t.

Clapp’s exclusion apparently had everything to do with the fact that her husband died in a stateside accident — and nothing to do with her opposition to the war, which until speaking with me yesterday she hadn’t talked about in public.

But she’s angry.

“I’m not a good military wife anymore, I’m an angry military wife. I’m an angry military widow,” she said.


What Shelann Clapp is angriest about is that she didn’t even hear that Bush was meeting with survivor families until the next day.

“Maybe my husband didn’t really count,” she said.


“I disagree with a distinction being made between soldiers that died in the war and soldiers that died supporting the war. . . . He’s still not home with my family.”

“I did not support the war. I did not support us going to war,” she said. “I think my husband’s death was in vain, I really do. I don’t think it needed to happen. It did not need to happen. . . .

I won’t say my husband gave his life for this country. I will never say that,” she said. “I would say he lost his life for this country.”

How many of the other Fort Hood widows think their husbands died in vain — and did any of them get to meet with Bush on Tuesday? Clapp doesn’t know. “We tend not to discuss that,” she said. “We just talk about the guys.”

If any survivors who have met with the president are reading this, I’d love to tell your story. E-mail me at froomkin@washingtonpost.com.

Emphases mine.

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