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Family of Bronze Star Recipient Appealing for Death Benefits After Pentagon Decision

 

Capt. Samson Luke served seven years in the U.S. Army, deployed twice to Iraq and was given the Bronze Star for "bravery, heroism or meritorious" service after a particularly harrowing incident in 2006 that left many in his unit dead. 

He survived the war, but died two years ago when he had a heart attack during a brief assignment with the Arkansas National Guard. 

Yet despite Luke's service, the Army has since declined to pay out military death benefits to the family -- claiming his family is not eligible because the veteran died in his home just a few miles from base. 

As a U.S. senator steps in to try and reverse the decision, attaching a provision meant to help the family in a recently passed defense bill, the family is locked in a dispute with the military over whether Luke passed away as a soldier or as a civilian. 

"I would like them to do what's right and not only give me and my four kids back the benefits that my husband died for," his wife Miranda told Fox News. "He had lived for the Army and died serving them. He was on guard duty that weekend. I would also like them to change ... the language so no one else has to go through this again." 

Luke's orders that weekend covered Jan. 9 and 10. His commanders had given him permission to sleep at their Greenwood, Ark., home that night while on duty because it was just 12 miles from Fort Chaffee. Staying at home would save the tax payer from having to pay for a hotel. 

So Luke came home from Fort Chaffee in between his shift to sleep after a grueling day of heavy labor in the freezing cold with his unit. 

His heart stopped. He was 34 years old. 

He was buried on January 18, 2010, which would have been his 35th birthday. 

At first, the Army assigned a casualty assistance officer to Luke's wife, Miranda and their four children, all under the age of 11 at the time. 

Luke was buried in a military cemetery. Then with no explanation the casualty assistance officer was suddenly pulled from the family and Miranda was informed the military would not pay for the funeral and would not provide the standard death or grievance benefits that are provided to military families when a family member dies while on duty because technically her husband died at home. 

"Sam was amazing man. A very good soldier, a remarkable leader. To us, he was the love of my life," his wife Miranda recalled. "He loved the army." 

The Army said its bureau of Casualty and Mortuary Affairs ruled that the Luke family did not deserve those benefits, which would come to more than $100,000 in expenses, health care for the family and potential tuition assistance for the children. 

"Under the provisions of 10 USC 1481(a)(2)(O), the Army may only pay for funeral and mortuary costs for Reserve Soldiers who die while remaining overnight at or in the vicinity of the site of the active duty training," Army spokesman George Wright wrote in response to a Fox News query. "Soldiers who have their supervisor's permission to spend the intervening drill night at their residence, whether or not in the vicinity of the site of the inactive-duty training, are not covered by this section." 

The spokesman added: "Payment is only authorized for Reserve Soldiers who die during inactive-duty training or while traveling directly to or from such training. Therefore, the payment of the Death Gratuity on behalf of a Soldier who has completed a day of inactive-duty training and with the authority of their supervisor returned home for the intervening nights is not eligible to receive the Death Gratuity under 10 USC 1475." 

An appeal is currently before the Army Board for the Correction of Military Records. It was filed by a Chicago-based law firm on May 3, 2011. 

Meanwhile, Arkansas Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor proposed an amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill to tighten the language surrounding benefits due to National Guard families. That amendment passed Thursday in the Senate. 

"I am fighting on behalf of him and his family and for others in a similarly situated circumstance to clarify that when a person is on orders when you are doing their National Guard training, they are entitled to death benefits wherever you happen to be laying your head at that particular night," Senator Pryor said while introducing the Luke Amendment. 

It's been nearly two years since her husband's death and Miranda Luke says she never wanted to do anything to embarrass the Army, an institution she and her husband loved. But she thinks in this case they have made a mistake. 

"I don't want to come across as someone who is anti-military. It just seems there is this one line of people who have decided that my husband and family are not worthy of benefits," Miranda Luke told Fox News. "The hardest thing for me when they took away our benefits was to feel detached from the military." 

Bonnie Carroll, the founder and President of TAPS (The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors), a group that helps the military families of those who die while serving, is helping Luke make her case to the Pentagon

"This is a family that deserves every bit of support we can give them," Carroll said in an interview. "Efforts to clarify the code so this never happens again are just tremendous." 

The Luke family is awaiting a decision from the Army review board.

Jennifer Griffin currently serves as a national security correspondent for FOX News Channel . She joined FNC in October 1999 as a Jerusalem-based correspondent.