When the first of October rolled in a couple of weeks ago it reminded many of us that summer was really over. Forget labour Day and the first official day of fall September 21; October is changing leaves, pumpkins, and Halloween.Unfortunately that routine awareness was lost to three members of the North Carolina National Guard who were killed by a suicide bomber October 1, as they made their way through an open air market.
The deaths passed largely unnoticed by Americans outside the military, but what caught global attention is Sgt. Donna R. Johnson’s wife and the fact that the Army refuses to acknowledge her very much at all.
Gannett-owned Army Times took the brunt of the protest, but the Times only followed the AP’s lead, when it mentioned the other two male soldiers killed were survived by wives, while failing to mention Johnson’s wife Tracy Dice.
Readers who knew Sgt. Johnson expressed their outrage in the comments section of the Times story and asked why the woman, who was legally married just like the two men, couldn’t have her surviving spouse mentioned as well.
Journalism pundit Jim Romenesko wondered the same thing, after being alerted to the lapse by one of his readers, and shot off an email to AP asking what was up. Then, on October 6 the AP wrote an entirely new story and The Army Times posted it to their site Sunday October 7.
Those details did little, however, to appease commenters on the Times original post who shed much light on what’s left in the wake of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’s (DADT) repeal.
It turns out that even though a servicemember can legally marry in a state of their choice and be recognised by law, the service denies same-sex spouses a long list of lucrative and fundamental privileges.
The defence of Marriage Act enforces discrimination right where Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell left off — causing a whole different type of damage.
What that defence of Marriage Act also means to Tracy Dice is:
- She could never use the commissary to do the grocery shopping where food is marked just 5 per cent above wholesale.
- Tracy was never covered under Johnson’s Tricare medical insurance.
- She and Sgt. Johnson never received the Basic Allowance for Housing stipend essential to many male-female couples in securing housing.
- She couldn’t go to base-sponsored picnics and events.
- She couldn’t get any assistance relocating with her wife to a new duty station, including overseas.
- Once at a new base Tracy would not have qualified for employment or education assistance.
- She did not qualify for free legal service.
- If she were ever a victim of spousal abuse and the ‘survivor’ effects of PTSD, she could not go to family advocacy or spousal abuse centres.
- She will not receive any of Johnson’s survivor benefits.
And perhaps most striking of all is that when the suicide bomber ripped through that Afghan market October 1 killing her wife, Tracy had to hear about it second-hand, because the Army refused to acknowledge her as the Primary Next Of Kin (PNOK). That means grief counseling and all the honours due a fallen spouse are also being denied to Tracy Dice.
Tracy was listed only as a Designated Person, someone who finds out “less quickly than the PNOK” about their spouse’s death.
And finally, when the time came to identify Johnson’s remains the Army would have refused to allow Tracy to perform that last task as well.
Identifying your dead spouse killed half-a-world away, in combat, remains a privilege to those married to members of the opposite sex. Update: Not the AP, the Army Times, or the Army are responsible for the discrimination and each simply responded the best it could to some very unjust legislation, which should have been struck with the appeal of DADT.
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