Thursday, March 15, 2007
Family seeks $100K military death benefit
I had to laugh when I politely declined the kind offer from 9-year-old Kayla Jaenke to join in the game she was playing. She and her little cousin were in the middle of a heated contest of "Mud Baseball." I'm not sure what the rules were, but if the objective was to become covered in black Iowa mud then Kayla was surely winning. Her grandmother Susan Jaenke smiled and said that as long as her washing machine and shower still work, then she's more than happy to encourage Kayla's tomboyish fun.

"She's just like her mother," she said.

Kayla probably hears that a lot. Her long blonde curls and light blue eyes are reminiscent of her mother, Jaime Jaenke, who grew up riding and caring for horses in Iowa City. She was a young mother and was married briefly. She helped build a stable where she boarded horses and one day planned to provide therapy to disabled children. Even as she deployed to Iraq with her unit of Navy Seabees, Jaime was sending checks home to take care of Kayla and keep the stables operating. Those checks stopped in June when Jaime was killed by a roadside bomb.

Kayla doesn't like to talk about her feelings about losing her mother. But she's happy to tell you how her mom taught her to care for the horses, something she does everyday. She also smiles warmly when she shows off the dress her mom sent her from Iraq. Her grandmother's house seems to be full of love but it is a troubled home.

Kayla's grandmother shakes her head when she tries to make sense of the law that keeps her from collecting Jaime's $100,000 death benefit from the military. It is money Jaime thought she was leaving behind to pay for her daughter's upbringing, as she spelled out in a letter shortly before she deployed. Instead, the death benefit sits in a trust that Kayla can't touch until she's 18. In the meantime, the roof is leaking, the horses need to be fed, the mortgage needs to be paid and her grandmother can't make ends meet.

Susan Jaenke summed up the situation thusly: "I'm a mother without a daughter. I've got a daughter without a mother. And now, we don't have a future."

The Jaenke's situation is not a common one. Still, Rep. Tom Latham of Iowa says he would like to change the law governing death benefits to let them be accountable to the wishes of the individual service person. And he wants to make the change retroactive.
Posted By David Mattingly, CNN Correspondent: 6:05 PM ET
  41 Comments
I have emailed the President to ask what does it take for a disabled vet to be treated equally.

Subject: Equality for all America's Patriots
Date: Monday, September 02, 2002 2:33 PM

Mr. President

I would like to ask you as the Commander In Chief how much blood must a service member bleed, how much pain must a service member suffer, and how much of a service members life has to be sacrificed in order to be treated equally? I hope and pray that you see that correcting this injustice for America's Patriots will be far more favorable then trying to explain and justify the answer to the question of service members worth to the nation and all members of the armed services past, present, and future.

David T. Lopez
SFC, US Army Retired
Disabled Veteran
Posted By Anonymous David T. Lopez, Kapolei, HI : 6:25 PM ET
I don't understand how the military can supercede the wishes of the testator of their own death benefit. Did this lady have a Will? It sounds like she might have but yet the law was designed to protect...who?
Posted By Anonymous Nicki, Calgary, Alberta : 6:40 PM ET
It's sad when the government refuses to serve those who have served it, to the death. It is shameful.
Posted By Anonymous Megan, Douglas, GA : 6:50 PM ET
Dave,
This is yet another tragic story from a war that never shoud have been. I know this must be very difficult for 9 year old Kayla. I hope that she and her Grandmother recieve enough money to keep the horses. Equine therapy is such a rewarding experience. This is a wonderful gift Jaime Jaenke has left her daughter. It is a paradox that these therapy horses Jaime had to help disabled children might be just the therapy needed for young Kayla in her Mother's absence. How distressing that they can not collect the death benefits to sustain their lives. I wish Kayla and her Grandmother the best. I know 360 will advise us if we can futher assist these fellow Americans who have sacrificed for our country.
Now, about that mud baseball David. Sometimes mudslinging can be good. I can't think of a better way of feeling like a kid than allowing 9 year olds to cover me in mud. I'll bet they would have gotten a big kick out of it too. They would have thought you were soooo cool! Next time, I think you should accept the invitation, put on an old tee, and be a sport about it. . . sounds like fun to me!
Posted By Anonymous Betty Ann, Nacogdoches TX : 6:58 PM ET
Sen. Latham's change makes sense. The law should be that the person serving in the military is able to designate when and to whom the death benefit will be distributed, just like in a will.
Posted By Anonymous xtina - chicago IL : 6:58 PM ET
I guess the $100k goes to her daughter directly when she becomes of age, NOT to be spent "for" her by a relative.
Posted By Anonymous g o, new york, ny : 7:13 PM ET
It is sad that Mrs. Jaenke can't get the money that rightfully belongs to her granddaughter. I don't understand how the government can keep it from them. Kayla is the beneficiary. It shouldn't be up to the government whether or not to put it into a trust. That should have been left up to Mrs. Jaenke.
Posted By Anonymous Cynthia, Covington, Ga. : 7:14 PM ET
Death Benefits NEED to be given to the grandmother for the soldiers little girl to be taken care of. Especially since Jaime wrote the letter BEFORE she was deployed. This is just not right. Our soldiers must not have to wait!!!!! They should be our FIRST concern. Listen to their cry congressmen. You would want to be heard if you or your loved one was injured or killed, would you not?
Posted By Anonymous Connie Cooper, Moriarty, NM : 7:16 PM ET
Kayla's grandma needs to stay strong and we should all push for Rep. Tom Latham to get this sponsored bill passed soon. BTW, where's Kayla's father and why isn't he helping?
Posted By Anonymous Jolene, St. Joseph, MI : 7:18 PM ET
It's only a matter of common sense to allow each service member to decide how they want their death benefit to be distributed.

Sometimes laws just don't make sense in the real world and need to be corrected to fit individual needs.
Posted By Anonymous Joseph Kowalski, North Huntingdon, PA : 7:28 PM ET
It reminds me of child support collected after the person retires and the child is grown, there must be away she can have enough for now and enough for her education later. so the roof leaks, times have been hard for all of us but, the child should have shoes and winter coat and food and an education and comfort what else did the mother die for
Posted By Anonymous mueller cedar rapids IA : 7:35 PM ET
Well that,s a no brainer, the Mother made it clear what her decision was, who other than her has the right to decide otherwise. Change the law!
Posted By Anonymous Guy Sodus Point, NY : 8:04 PM ET
When I was a single mother in the Navy that one of my worst fears - that something would happen to me and my SGLI would not pay out to my parents to help take care of my son. The death benefits law needs to be changed - immediately. I don't understand why the courts wouldn't at least appoint a Guardian Ad Litem to act as a Trustee with the access to the benefits to help care for the child each month financially while still protecting a set amount of the death benefit proceeds. It is simply an irrational situation for the Grandmother, who was obviously entrusted with the care of the little girl should something happen to her mother, to be denied access to the funds which would allow her to fulfill her daughter's wishes. Come on - it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know what the right thing to do here is....
Posted By Anonymous Lori, Lexington KY : 8:16 PM ET
My heart goes out to the Jaenke family and I am truly sorry for their loss. I am concerned though about the prospect of tampering with the death gratuity. While Jaime may have desired to leave this money to her mother, it was not intended to be a life insurance policy. That is why service members have SGLI. Jaime could have left her mother up to $400,000 through SGLI had she elected to do so.
The death gratuity is intended to fill the void left when a service member's pay stops and the family is waiting for survivor benefits to begin.
Kayla is eligible for social security, medical care and dental care, and other benefits as a military survivor.
Allowing survivors to fight over the death gratuity opens the door to all sorts of bizarre possibilities. SGLI provides service members with the opportunity to provide for their loved ones. Let's leave SBP alone.
Posted By Anonymous Kimberly, Washington, D.C. : 8:37 PM ET
It is a sad state of affairs the treatment of the loved ones of our military. It is only second to the sad state of affairs our country's President has created. I am a combat Marine veteran from the first gulf war and at least that George Bush knew what he was doing. It is a shame our country has to wait this Presidency out to correct such misguided actions.
Posted By Anonymous Paul, Tampa, FL : 9:06 PM ET
Im so very sorry for there loss but the money should be in trust for the child. She gets social security to cover her everyday needs.
Posted By Anonymous Sandy Little River SC : 9:28 PM ET
David/AC360:
So the US military is now victimizing nine year-olds? What a mess!
Posted By Anonymous Sharon D., Indianapolis, IN : 9:34 PM ET
Hi David,
I'm glad to hear that the Jaenke's situation is not common. Rep. Tom Latham should push for the law to be changed. That family needs the money today not tomorrow or years from now. It's just a shame they had to lose a loved one to begin with, let alone then fight for the death benefit. I wish them well. Take Care
Posted By Anonymous Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif. : 10:24 PM ET
This is almost too sad to comment on. The Government and its red tape. I suppose the government is trying to protect this child in its own twisted way. The government never understands the day to day costs of raising a child. Isn't there some way that they could give at least an allowance every year to the grandmother to care for the child until she's 18 or 21 dependingon if she goes to college? I would think that the military would be able to provide some help to this family. Or is the military treating them like our recent vets who are waiting for help through their medical system?
Posted By Anonymous Rebecca, Orleans LA : 10:52 PM ET
it is sad that a person that lived and dies for this country believing that if the worst happened her little girl would be taken care of. Now this little girl does not have a mother or any money on which to make it until a predetermined (by the military, not a personal wish of the parent like most other trusts) age. A last will and testament is important, it gives a parent a sense of peace concerning the care of their personal propert and their children. This issue with Kayla should not even be up for discussion, release her funds in trust just as any other attorney witnessed will would be.
Posted By Anonymous Stephanie, Denver, NC : 12:09 AM ET
The military has always held to protect the death benefits of a veteran for the intended person. This grandmother has other local benefits she can claim in her community. People always look to the military as if the military "owes it to them". I have power of attorney over my 83 yr old father who is a veteran of WWII, Korea and VN. His retired pay is and never will be available to me even though I am his caregiver. He did do a Living Trust which gives me authority for his care so he is not a financial burden to me. Veterans should learn how to set up their Wills or a Trust so that their minor children can be cared for by other family members. Quit blaming the military for upholding the veterans final wishes. People need to start taking responsibility for themselves and educate themselves for the future.
Posted By Anonymous Cheryl Walker, Pensacola, FL : 12:26 AM ET
Thank you for calling attention to this issue involving unmarried soldiers. In researching my book, SINGLED OUT: How Singles are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After, I discovered a whole array of ways that single people in the service are treated less fairly than the married people they serve with. Maybe this CNN report will inspire some action so that all people who serve our nation receive what they have so clearly earned. --Bella DePaulo
Posted By Anonymous Bella DePaulo, Summerland, CA : 12:36 AM ET
I am totally disgusted by our government. How can they do this to the children of those that served our country and lost their precious lives. For what? For not having your children or your family taken care of, this is so wrong. I don't understand how America can continue to send billions of our hard earned money to other countries and yet our government is not the one that is protecting this country it is the men and women that are in harm's way and are far away from thier families. Where are the politcians when you need them? Where? I have a son in the military and we have found out the little that our government actually do for our heroes. Thank you so much for bringing out these kinds of stories and maybe putting these people to shame! May you continue to fight for our soldiers...God bless you AC.
Posted By Anonymous Vira, Houston, Texas : 12:40 AM ET
It seems to me for someone who draws "disability" the grandmother gets around pretty good. I hope she is truly looking out for the best interest of her granddaughter and not looking for another way to get money without working for it. God Bless this soldier and her daughter.
Posted By Anonymous Cindy, Maynard.AR : 12:41 AM ET
The grandmother's primary concern should not be about caring for the stables and the horses, but should be about caring for the child. While it would be nice to afford everything that you want, in tough times you take care of needs. I have always heard that any dependent of a fallen military person is entitled to benefits until that child attains age 18, so I am almost positive that the grandmother is getting enough monthly compensation to feed and clothe the child. The death benefit belongs to the child and should be held in trust for the child until the child is old enough to take receipt of it. It will make a nice nest egg to pay for her college education and give her a start in life ...
Posted By Anonymous Norah Kaye, Alpharetta GA : 12:44 AM ET
Very touching story; however, the military member did not correctly state who was to receive the death gratuity. The beneficiary on the policy should have stated her mother then the money would have gone to the mother. Also it appears that the military member did not really understand that the policy could have a death gratuity of $400,000. That would have made a big difference for her daughter. The premium is $29.00 for the $400,000. As I said this is a touching story however the military redtape is not at fault here. Unfortunately the blame for this fiasco rests with the military member.
Posted By Anonymous Michael, Montgomery, AL : 12:45 AM ET
Something is fishy about what this mother is being told and needs further looking into. I was a records clerk for 5 years and I can tell you I helped hundreds of soldiers complete their deployment paperwork and the one thing I could not do is leave insurance to a minor without a will appointing a someone that childs gardian so incase of death, the soldiers money from insurance would go to the child guardian to take care of the child. The only way it went to a trust was if it was set up by the soldier ahead of time. There is certain paperwork thart has to be done before deployment and the insurance is one of the major ones. I really hope someone can get this taken care of
Posted By Anonymous Kelly, Cetralia, WA : 12:47 AM ET
First off, why is the death benefit only $100,000? If you could even begin to put a price on the sacrifice of our soldiers, especially those who have given all they can give, which you can't, $100,000 seems to me to be a pitiful gesture.
While I believe the families should be entitled to receive more for their loss, $1,000,000 without all the hassles that you have covered in this story tonight.

Josh Bersos
Posted By Anonymous Josh Bersos, Mercer Island, WA : 12:48 AM ET
So how can anyone be motivated to join the military, knowing that if something happened to you, your loved ones will not be taken care of?
Posted By Anonymous Lilibeth, Edmonds, WA : 12:48 AM ET
I have to ask what happened to her SGLI (the $400,000 life insurance policy that the navy offers)?? When you fill out your page two, and other paperwork, and you put your mother as the benificiary, that should be who it goes to. As a seabee in the same situation, I would hope that if something were to happen to me, the money would be given to my mother to raise my child, not to my three year old son to sit in a trust for 15 years. When I sign my name on that paper saying all money goes to my mother, why would it be any other way?? If that was the case, maybe the navy should tell you that, not give you false hope that the money could be used to raise your child. You give your life for your country, the least the navy could do is pay out the benifits promptly and follow your wishes.
Posted By Anonymous Brilly, Virginia Beach, VA : 12:51 AM ET
On a Death benefit where a child is able to collect when they are 18 ,and there is a sad case that the provider is struggling,why isn't there a law ,that would entitle the gaurdian to some sort of collection on the need for the child?Why not a County Protective worker who would over see the childs home situation and allow small parts of this income (in a percentage monthly ) like a child support check be available so a struggling Grandma/Gaurdian can give the child a life without more loss, and provide some fiancial comfort.Shame On America again !!!
Posted By Anonymous Amy Sokol, Hamden N.Y : 1:00 AM ET
This doesn't seem to portray things fairly and completely. Susan Jaenke should be collecting monthly benefits for her granddaughter from BOTH Social Security and Military Dependents Indemnity Compensation. The military also provides SGLI (Servicemember's Group Life Insurance) in the amount of $200,000 payable to the beneficiary named by the servicemember. The SGLI coverage is automatic, unless declined or reduced by the servicemember's written request. My information may not be currently accurate, but the coverage most likely would either be the same or higher.
Posted By Anonymous Vince Silenzio, Maple Shade,NJ : 1:03 AM ET
Another example of not taking everything into consideration before passing something into law.There should be no doubt that this Grandmother should have the money to help raise this little girl.They could set some aside for her future but they shouldn't be forced into poverty because of someone elses stupidity.Everyone knew what Jaime wanted.She talked about it.Don't make this child and her Grandmother go through anymore than they've already been through.This kind of insanity has got to stop.
Posted By Anonymous Kathy,Taylor,Mi. : 1:12 AM ET
That CANNOT be the whole story. As a retired Marine administrative officer, I can tell you that there is more to this... First, there is the Serviceman's Group Life Insurance policy, when I retired it was worth $250K in 2004. I believe it has gone up since. 2nd, there is a death gratuity, which covers all near to death expenditures. Funeral is paid for in full by the government (unless the family opts for something grandiose). 3rd, that child is covered by the Survivor Benefit Plan, which is based on her mothers rank, but still a decent amount of money..., certainly enough to take care of the child with through college, or age 18 if she doesn't attend post-secondary education. And finally, the child will draw social security through college too.

Report the whole story, not just the sad bits. The military does all it can to support its Marines, sailors, soldiers and airmen. The legislature makes the rules.
Posted By Anonymous Terry, Phoenix, AZ : 2:10 AM ET
I'm curious - what are the terms of the trust that you mention? How does the grandmother have "no future" as she states? Surely, the child's trust permits the trustee to use money from the trust to fix a leaking roof as most trusts created through military legal offices give the trustee broad discretion to use the trust's corpus for the child's health, education, maintenance, or support. As for the horses, if the child is only left with $100,000, would the mother really have wanted that money to go towards feeding horses? This begs another question - to whom did the servicemember's $400,000 military life insurance go? I feel like the reader here is not being given the complete picture.
Posted By Anonymous James, Queens, New York : 2:39 AM ET
Why don't they sell some of those horses... if they really need cash. One of those horses go for about 50K to 100K. How about the stable... if they are so in need of cash and are living of charity.
Posted By Anonymous David, Beerly Hills, CA : 3:37 AM ET
I'm generally not a person to comment on these news items. However, as a US Army, Retired, Disabled Veteran, I felt compelled to write after seeing this story. While I am an AC fan, I feel this story was not told in whole. This soldier also had life insurance available to her and must designate a beneficiary. If no beneficiary is designated then the insurance may very well go into trust. While military and veteran benefits can be difficult to understand, there are many competent professionals available to assist. My heart goes out to this family and their difficulties, but, unfortunately,
all of the fault may not lie with the military or VA.
Posted By Anonymous Rhonda, Racine, WI : 3:40 AM ET
I just recently ended my 5 year tour with the Marine Corps. Along with that came 2 tours to Iraq. Before we deployed, it was mandatory to get an audit on our administrative paper work including our SGLI death benefit. There is an option to write who you want to leave your money to go to if you should so happen to die as a service member. Has someone pulled that paperwork and see what she had written before she deployed. I'm also confused on the $100,00. It was $250,000 when I was in and raised to $400,000 on my last deployment. Someone needs to check her SGLI paperwork and see what and who exactly she put. Theres a box you have to physically write someones name and address for who the payee is going to be,and also a place for someone to be a beneficiary that you have to fill out in ink as well.
Posted By Anonymous James, richmond tx : 3:46 AM ET
RE: Family seeks $100K military death benefit... Laws made in thoughtless haste hurt everyone. I am very sad the monies which should help maintain Kayla's life and future should be on hold simply because our government tries with its wisdom to protect thoughtlessly, blindly and without reason. Here is a case which cries out for empathy. The law needs to be changed to protect single mothers and fathers immediately by Presidential Decree, with retro-active impact.
Posted By Anonymous Bob Albers, Sneads Ferry, NC : 3:47 AM ET
Has she checked into adopting her granddaughter and getting disability for her as well? What about support from the father? Survivors benefits from SSI. Food stamps. I had custody of my 2 grandkids for a year, we had my small mobile home, food stamps, donated clothes and toys, sometimes a few dollars from my daughter and never a penny from the father but we had lots of love and learning and we didn't need a large horse stable or any horses. I scraped enough for two little bikes and the kids were happy,
and I never taught them anything about being hopeless, I taught them to be glad to have food, shelter and family and God. There were days I was so bad off I had to crawl to get them ready to go to school, but never a day I felt anything but blessed to be with them.
Posted By Anonymous Mark Hot Springs, AR : 3:48 AM ET
For every Grandmother with a leaking roof, there's a relative with custody, who may feel that they just won the jackpot. The Mother should have spelled everything out on both her SGLI and will. She should have left the money to her own mother knowing that she would use the money to raise the child. I do feel for the Grandmother, but as a fellow GI, I know that it's the parents responsibility to have ones affairs in order before going into harms way. Changing the law just opens it up for abuse. Also what happens if the Grandmother dies? Whoever the state appoints custody to will have the girls money to spend, and they may not need it to fix a leaking roof.
Posted By Anonymous J. Taylor, Goldsboro, NC : 4:05 AM ET
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