A War Widow With no Benefits

flag folded

Imagine your servicemember dies. Imagine no one notifies you. Imagine you learn from his sister — not from a uniformed pair at your doorstep. Imagine you get no honors as a widow of a fallen servicemember, no recognition, no folded flag and no death benefits.

Imagine that, and you imagine yourself in the shoes of war widow Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Tracy Dice, a gay military spouse, married to Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Donna Johnson who was killed in Afghanistan Oct. 1.

Watch a video about her here.


As the original story on Army Times says (unavailable to link because it is available only to paid subscribers), the military believes Dice is the first widow of a gay spouse. That makes her the first gay spouse since the lifting of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) more than a year ago to deal with ramifications of the Defense of Marriage Act on gay servicemembers.

The issue isn’t a surprise, but it is a problem. Because of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman, the DoD does not recognize gay marriage as a legal union and, therefore, does not give any benefits to gay spouses. That includes death benefits.

Watch the video and you’ll see the heartbreak written on Dice’s face. She is in mourning. And, although she clearly states in the story that she does view herself as one, she is the victim of a cruel double standard. Regardless of what you think about gay marriage, the double standard is obvious. With the lifting of DADT Dice and Johnson could live out in the open — they can support each other, they can do everything that makes a military spouse a military spouse … except receive support.

Isn’t there something wrong with that?

About the Author

Amy Bushatz
Amy is the editor in chief of Military.com’s spouse and family blog SpouseBuzz.com. A journalist by trade, Amy also covers spouse and family news for Military.com where she is the managing editor of spouse and family content. An Army wife and mother of two, Amy has been featured as a subject matter expert on CNN.com, NPR, Fox News, NBC, CBS, ABC and BBC as well as in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. Follow her on twitter @amybushatz.

36 Comments on "A War Widow With no Benefits"

  1. My heart goes out to Staff Sgt. Tracy Dice and Staff Sgt Donna Johnson and to the families. Bless you all.

  2. Wait a minute, isn't it the service members right to pick who gets notified in the case of death? It doesn't even have to be a spouse if you are married. So isn't the service member partly to blame here? I mean, not to sound mean hateful here, sorry about that. I am a huge supporter of marriage rights to everyone who wants them! Perhaps she had her sister on her paperwork before DADT and just didn't change the notification. That is only covering the notification part. The other issues I have no other logical reasoning for any exclusion for any support for this poor woman.

    A widow is a widow, heartbreak is heartbreak. How the hell do you excuse playing politics with someones loss of life? Grief support should be open to everyone, and I mean everyone. No matter what our differences we all experience heartbreak because we all require one to be alive

  3. I agree with Brenna. The notification would have been done according the paperwork that was filled out by the service member.
    As for the benefits, can't a service member chose whomever they would like the benefits to go to? Before my husband and I got married, he had his parents as the beneficiaries. When we did our wills (which dearly need to be updated), we were given the option to give the benefits to whoever. I'm curious to know what SSG Johnson's will states.
    Unfortunately, until the gov't and the military pull their heads out of the sand and realize that times are changing, then nothing is going to change with regulation. I feel for SSG Dice. Losing someone, no matter who they are is hard for everyone to go through. Hopefully being that she is active duty as well, she can take advantage of some of the services they are provided with regardless.

  4. John Sakowich | January 7, 2013 at 3:31 pm |

    Im sorry but being gay doesn't allow you benefits. You not married
    God made people a certian way for a reason. We have to start at sometime
    to quit apeasing everyone and treating Christians like second class citizens
    Our country was not built buy gay and Lesbions. It was built by Christians

  5. BILL CONSANI | January 7, 2013 at 3:32 pm |

    I believe that the Military is in error. If they are now going to allow Gays in the military, then they should know that one of the things that will come of this would be the marriage of Gays to one another. It would be very simple to re-state the definition of "marriage" to mean "the "legal" marriage of on "person" to another. Then, if Guys are married to one another, legally, in the State that they happen to be in, they would be entitled to the benefits. If they are legally married and the military allows them to be together, even tho they are Gay, then the military has no right to withhold benefits from them. Get on he ball Department of Defense and Commander in Chief.

  6. the federal government does not recognize gay marriage…….so not surprised this has happened and
    it will not be the last time…….

  7. All soldiers entering the services must fill out NOK form. This is one of the forms on checklist before deploying. And soldier must fill out A Living Will with a Jag Officer before deploying. I would talk with a Jag officer and have them locate these forms. If they find these forms,they will answer alot of questions. And if the forms can't be found,the Jag officer will know what too do.

  8. hismilitarywife | January 7, 2013 at 5:21 pm |

    This is the same as the gay female couple that complained they didn't get paternity leave when one had a baby. The military has changed it's outlook but it can't break the law. There were plenty of things in the paperwork that can be set to whomever you want and apparently she didn't do that. As for marriage I disagree… Maybe someday the federal law will recognize a union but to call it marriage is offensive. Although I can understand the frustration I do not think that our war torn, budget cut military, is ready to take on the task of legal unions and same sex marriages. There are too many changes right now that are threatening the seams of our service. In.another decade it should be reevaluated.

  9. Wow, kinda like the Federal Tort Claims ACT (FTCA) that does NOT allow you to sue Military Medical Doctors for MALPRACTICE.

    Imagine you are active duty and die in the operating room for a simple gall bladder operation carelessly performed by an inept surgeon. NO LEGAL RECOURSE…BY LAW!

    What kind of person or persons would think of such a law? LOW LIFES and SUB-HUMANS that's what kind.

  10. redprincess | January 7, 2013 at 6:51 pm |

    It always hurts when someone you love is taken from you. Maybe this will make other gay couple look at their paperwork and wills more closely to ensure their wishes are clearly stated.

    MARRIAGE is between a man and a woman. Gay couples need to come up with their own word describing their relationship – because it is nor marriage…marriage is taken. Just like naming a new species "cat" would be wrong – we already have a cat and we all know what is is.

    So gay couples need their own word, maybe one word for lesibians and one for homosexuals – that could clarify relationships more easily. For instance, "we were lovebonded" in January….or We had our "lifelinking ceremony" last spring.,

  11. There are good and bad posts here, but the victim is in the article. "Marriage" is a sacrament of the church that the Government recognizes and allows individuals certain rights and privileges. That being said, the government can't "marry" people as is done in the court house. This is not a Gay/Straight issue, ceremonies performed outside the church should be civil unions regardless of the sex of the parties involved. I "married" my wife in the courthouse, we are man and wife, but I believe it should be termed a civil union, because it was a legal contract before a judge. Benefits should be extended to gay and lesbian couples under the same premise but cannot be called marriage. The term marriage originated in and is essentially owned by the church, and the efforts to use THAT term is getting in the way of extending the rights to deserving couples. I would love to hear feedback.

  12. Adultery is a sin Nathan and we catch people doing it all the time but we do not persecute them the same way we do gay/lesbian.

    Ask a better question, Why do you care if gay and lesbian couples have the ability to claim each other as dependents? How does it affect or harm you? It doesn't. It can't. But because you and those like you are afraid of your own level of sin, you feel all morally empowered to attack others.

    I don't care if your bible says it is a sin or not. Why are you morally outraged at one Particular sin your bible talks about instead of ALL OF THEM? Hypocrite.

  13. Marriage is not only a sacrament of the chgurch as it is apporved by the government and can be performed by any officail given the power to do so by the state. I have been married twice, once by a JO and the other by a district judge. Or are you trying to say that no matter who you are if you were not married in a churuch you are not really married?

  14. The DADT Repeal was just to get a foot in the door. The remaining changes for legally recognized marriages will come soon. I saw this stuff coming in a couple of years back. I knew that once a homosexual would be allowed to be in and not have to hide it, "legally", anyway, that the other rights would have to be addressed at some point,…and it will.

  15. Regardless of how passionate religious people are, (regardless of their faith), changes are being made. Right or Wrong is just simply a perception of the masses, which are controlled by a plethora of factors. Personally, I can’t really relate to homosexuality. And I know that my inability to understand this phenomena isn’t my,…”choice”. It’s just the way I’m wired, I like women. So I really believe that the homosexual community probably hasn’t, “chosen” their turn-on’s either.

  16. Straight or Gay, one’s sexuality has no place in the work place, so a homosexual disposition shouldn’t come in to play on duty anyway. Anyone who is trying to be in a committed relationship, “legally married”, trying to raise families, should be entitled to receive the benefits that are offered to Soldiers, regardless of being straight or gay,…only my opinion.

  17. As a 25 year married veteran I can see both sides of this argument, yes partners should get benefits that is a given, however; if it was as simple as declaring that you are a couple, be it male/male female/female male/female and obtaining benefits then you would have "couples" throughout the military getting together just to get the added benefits that come with it and that will overburden the system to the point that it will erode benefits for the married/life couples. It's not the military that makes those rules it is congress, the military enforces the rules.

  18. Why do people speak of the military as an entity? It has no life, it can't make up rules. Until federal laws are changed to include these same sex relationhips and makes it a binding contract just like "marrage" then nothing can change. If a "married" military couple seperate/divorce then the spouce is entitled to certin benefits and it is a process to make the legal seperation and that is as it should be, and until same sex unions have the same binding contracts then again nothing can change. I have empathy for the couple in the article but everyone should stop blaming the "military" and pay attention to what their local congressperson represents and make their voice heard on election days!

  19. Let me see if I can make a comment before I continue.

  20. I am sorry that some people are confused about the definition of marriage. Despite many opinions, something is-what it is. Perhaps this couple had a relationship or a deep friendship. I do not care to know if they engaged in sexual practices. This is not my, or society's business. Neither is it the business of this Nation to start paying benefits for self-defined or abnormal definitions of marriage. Thousands of years have passsed where marriage was nearly always defined as being between a man and a woman. Please understand that I think the Service Member should have saved money in a retirement account if this person was dependent upon the Service Member's continuing support. I feel society and the military have no obligation to begin the vast, vast expense of paying benefits to anyone seeking them on a strange basis as this. They were not married. They should not be granted benefits as married individuals receive. A small group of people continue to press this issue and have gained support with others. They have gained no support with me for the recognition of non-traditional marriages. They simply are not married.

  21. in this case how do you know a widower from a widow ? and is there a difference in benifit ?

  22. Sad thing is , this woman cannot get a 100k plus death benefit, but we can get a few new virginia class subs and raptors. whiskey tango foxtrot.

  23. If we were not bringing discomfort to those around us, based on ideology, just what would we do with ourselves? Indeed many thrive on it.
    Just as it seems fitting for this venue to use it to achieve some purpose through implication.

  24. guess if they where Senators- lots of money to her.

  25. Ronald J. Marshall | January 9, 2013 at 5:04 pm |

    There seems to be a lot of confusion between "government benefits" and SGLI. A service member can name anyone their beneficiary of their SGLi, but law determines who is eligible for "government benefits" like DIC, Survivors Educational benfits, etc. The deceased service person should have named her partner as the beneficiary of her SGLI and could hve purchased other life insurance. At any rate, they, the couple in question should have gone into their "marriage" knowing that they would not be entitled to "government benefits" in the event of one of their deaths in service. This should be a wake up call to others in simular circumstances.

  26. sexual orientation is irrelevant. What is written and signed on the paperwork is all that matters. All military members need to take responsibility for their "families", whoever they are. Both these women had rank and knew what was clearly their responsibility..

  27. Make Bronco Bamma settle this one. Then the whole USA will know his Anti-Military sentiments!

  28. If they were legally married in a state that recognizes same sex marriages then, logic would dictate that the "full faith and credit" clause of the constitution would require that she receives the appropriate death benefits. I am not a lawyer nor do I claim to have any legal education. I'm just a DA Kansas farmboy that can read.

  29. you still have to fill out the benefits paperwork when you enlist if it was not updated the spouse receives nothing unless the family gives it to them It was up to the service member to make sure the paperwork was in order not the military they are briefed on this before deployment of any kind

  30. 17 year Army Wife | January 11, 2013 at 3:33 pm |

    You can absolutely put anyone down for your SGLI. And as you emergency contact.

    As for the flag, I have been to a few military funerals including one in which the fiance of the fallen soldier was given a flag IN ADDITION TO his mother. All you have to do is ask, they will not say no to such a request at a funeral.

    This article is nothing more than a means to stir people up without stating all the facts

  31. The loss of a loved one can never be replaced. My most sincere condolences to her spouse and family.
    Unfortunately I feel that the failure (or loss) of benefits is solely based on who the service member chose as their beneficiary ( i.e. the Primary Next of Kin -PNOK, Secondary Next of Kin – SNOK, Person Authorized to Direct Disposition of the Remains – PDD, and SGLI beneficiary). Once you set them this dictates who can and is eligible for the notification/benefits. Note to all active duty personnel – keep your house in order and update every PCS and Deployment(address change) or change in who you want to receive notification/benefits.
    Again to the spouse and family my personal condolences and grateful thanks for her service to my country!

  32. Although the military has yet to recognize or put in place policy for same sex marriage/union. As I stated above (PNOK, SNOK, ADD & SGLI) all these things are individually controlled by the service member.

  33. Couple of errors in my comments: PDD and ADD both = PADD (Person Authorized to Direct Disposition or Remains), and according to the DDF-93 must be a family member or parentis…legalese. Still not acted upon by the DOD of Federal Gov.

  34. Marriage is the holy unity of a man and woman. If they aren't married or blood relation then there is no benifits. Every military member knows this. Where is the problem?

  35. patrick powell | January 20, 2013 at 10:41 am |

    It breaks the heart to hear about people getting" married" (living together) to the same sex . Last time I read in the good book, correct me if I am wrong, "Marriage is a Godly accord between a Man and a Woman " period. No if, and , but , about it.
    What if everyone in the world were gay , the human race as we know it would wither away. !!!

  36. It's the responsibility of the service person to ensure the paperwork is In place for their loved one. I know a hetero spouse who had the same thing happen. Her husband hadn't changed the N.O.K. or SGLI beneficiary. His dad(whom he hadn't spoken to in months) got the notice and she found out through the grape vine a week later. And he kept the SGLI. It's awful but it happens.

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