Today on Holden’s Obsession with Dan Froomkin

From Holden:

Geeze, you must be thinking, Holden links to this Froomkin guy everyday. Sorry, but I think I’m developing another obsession.

Ususally Dan Froomkin’s WaPo column is extremely bloggy, composed of a series of excerpts and links to news articles about the executive branch. But today Dan dabbled in some first-hand reporting as he telephoned two members of the Families of the Fallen™. One of the subjects was allowed to meet with Chimpy at Ft. Hood Tuesday, the other was not.

“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.”

[snip]

“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.

[snip]

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.”

[snip]

“The first thing he did was he told me he was sorry for the loss of my husband. For a year and a half, I had been wanting him to tell me that he was sorry — not that I was holding him responsible in any way, but I was wanting to hear those words from him.”

What was important, she said, was “just that he acknowledge that it happened, and that it has happened to 1,500 families. And I wanted him to tell me that personally, that he was sorry for my loss, and acknowledge that my husband was not just a number.”

[snip]

I have to wonder 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.

Her husband of 28 years, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Douglas V. Clapp, died in November in a helicopter crash not far from Fort Hood. The Black Hawk in which he was a passenger was headed to check out equipment being readied for use in Iraq when it hit support wires from a TV transmission tower. He’d served in the military for more than 30 years and had recently returned from a deployment in Iraq.

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.”

Losing her husband as part of a war effort that she thought wasn’t necessary in the first place makes it particularly hard, she said.

“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.

Dan Froomkin: blurring the line between journalism and bloggin five days a week.