Ben was the love of Stacey’s life. In 2003, when Marine Captain Benjamin Sammis, a helicopter pilot, was killed in Iraq, Stacey was devastated — emotionally, and financially.
Since Ben, 29, had not bought the $250,000 life insurance policy the military makes available, the death benefit the government paid his widow was just $6,000.
“I guess it did seem kind of low,” said Sammis. “I mean, I'm not getting my husband back, and here's a $6,000 check. I guess, at that time, it seemed a little absurd.”
That figure has now been raised to just over $12,400, but Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., says it's still too low. He's campaigning for the benefit to be raised to $100,000.
“We spend billions and billions of dollars on things that never work,” said Hagel. “Certainly to invest in our people, in our warrior's families, seems to me the least we can do.”
The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, headquartered on the decommissioned aircraft carrier USS Intrepid, tries to add on to the government’s benefit and provide grieving military families with extra assistance. Relying solely on private contributions, it gives $11,000 to each surviving spouse and $5,000 for each dependent child.
“There's nothing that can replace the loss these families feel — the loss of a father, mother, daughter or son,” said Bill White, president of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. “In some small way we can say thank you for making the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country.”
For spouses like Sammis, who moved from California to be near her husband's grave at Arlington National Cemetery, it is impossible to assign a dollar figure to any life.
“Every day I wake up, I deal with it,” said Sammis. “Every second of every day, I think about what's missing in my life.”
But she believes that raising the $12,400 figure would be appropriate.
“I'm proud of him. And he went willingly,” she said. “However, he needs to be paid for the sacrifice.”
A life lost, a marriage destroyed, and a crying need, many argue, for a government to do more.