Phillips Improves Support For Gold Star Military Families With Bipartisan Defense Bill Amendment

July 21, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Rep. Dean Phillips (MN-03) announced today that his bipartisan plan to support Gold Star Families has been added to the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The “Cheryl Lankford Memorial to Improve Assistance for Gold Star Spouses and Other Dependents” amendment will help keep bereaved military families from slipping through the cracks and ensure that dependent children can easily access the benefits they are owed.

When a military member dies, the surviving family is visited by a Casualty Assistance Officer who advocates for the family, answers questions, logs complaints, and assists with processing benefits. However, if a Gold Star Spouse dies and leaves behind dependent children, the military does not provide any help at all. Phillips’s amendment would provide, at the request of the children or guardian, a Casualty Assistance Officer to support eligible dependents if the spouse of a deceased servicemember also passes away.

“As a Gold Star Son, my gratitude to our servicemembers and their families is immeasurable,” said Phillips. “We always seem to find enough resources to send our men and women in uniform into harm’s way, and I’m on a mission to ensure that taking care of those who return, and the families of those who do not, is given equal priority. These families – these children – have made unimaginable sacrifices. They deserve our respect and our support, and I’m glad Congress took action today to make it easier for Gold Star Families to access every single benefit they are owed. ”

Phillips’s amendment was co-sponsored by the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Dr. Phil Roe (R-TN), and has been endorsed by the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), Gold Star Wives of America, and the National Military Families Association.

The amendment is named in memory of Cheryl Lankford, a military widow whose husband was killed in action in 2007. Lankford was instrumental in helping to raise awareness about the widow’s tax, which was fixed with the help of Rep. Phillips in last year’s NDAA. Lankford died of cancer in May, 2020, leaving behind a teenage son under the guardianship of his aunt, a civilian without knowledge about the health, burial, and educational benefits that are available to Gold Star Families.

“I had the privilege of meeting Cheryl Lankford and her family, and I am proud to join Rep. Phillips in offering this amendment in her memory,” said Roe. “The brave men and women of our armed forces deserve to know that their families will be taken care of should the unthinkable happen. Our country is forever indebted to the sacrifices made by Gold Star Families, and this amendment will ensure that their children receive the support they deserve.”

“TAPS is grateful to Rep. Phillips and Rep. Roe for introducing the Cheryl Lankford Memorial Act as an amendment to the 2021 NDAA,” said Bonnie Carroll, Founder and President of TAPS. “The proposed legislation would ensure that Casualty Assistance Officers are assigned to dependent children in the case a surviving spouse subsequently passes. Naming this important bill in Cheryl's honor is a wonderful tribute to her years of advocacy on behalf of our nation's surviving families.”

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