When the Army honorably discharged Jason Hubbard of Clovis, Calif., last year after his two younger brothers died in the Iraq war, he lost his health insurance and other veterans benefits because he left before the end of his contract.
Now, the 65-year-old statutory loophole that allowed that to happen is closed.
President Bush on Friday signed into law the Hubbard Act, which secures the benefits of “sole survivor” veterans who are honorably discharged after the death of a parent or sibling also serving in the military.
“From beginning to end this has been a very rough experience,” Hubbard said after the signing at the White House.
“There will be a lot of people who will benefit from this now, and unfortunately in the future.”
Under the Department of Defense’s “sole survivor” policy, service members who lose all their siblings in war cannot be reassigned to combat zones and will be discharged from the military upon request. The policy was designed during World War II after the five Sullivan brothers, sailors who served on the same cruiser, died when their ship sank during the battle of Guadalcanal. The policy inspired the movie “Saving Private Ryan.”
Intended to protect other families from losing all of their children in war, the policy led to something of a Catch-22: Veterans who were honorably discharged as “sole survivors” before the end of their contracts were denied significant benefits to which they would have been entitled if they had not left the service early.
“After the sacrifice I made, I felt a little bit abandoned by the government,” said Hubbard, 34, a Fresno County sheriff’s deputy.
Jason and Nathan Hubbard joined the Army in 2005, after their 22-year-old brother, Jared, a Marine lance corporal, was killed in Iraq by a roadside bomb. About 2 1/2 years later, Hubbard watched as a Black Hawk helicopter carrying 21-year-old Nathan crashed during a nighttime mission in Iraq’s Al Tamim province, killing everyone aboard.
As the last surviving Hubbard son, Jason was granted an honorable discharge six months short of his three-year contract.
But when he returned home to California, Hubbard found that his health insurance -- covering himself, his pregnant wife and their young son -- and other veterans benefits had been cut off because of his early discharge. He also lost access to the veterans home loan program and to school grants under the GI Bill, and he was told to pay back his enlistment bonus.
“It was shocking, quite frankly,” said Hubbard’s congressman, Devin Nunes (R-Tulare), who coauthored the legislation after Hubbard contacted him. “I didn’t believe this could actually happen.”
The bipartisan bill sailed through the House and Senate by unanimous voice vote this summer. It restores access to veterans benefits and leaves enlistment bonuses intact. Retroactive to Sept. 11, 2001, it is intended to include veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Department of Defense estimates there have been 50 sole survivors besides Hubbard during that period.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Hubbard Act will cost about $1 million over the next 10 years. In the House, Jim Costa (D-Fresno) co-sponsored it with Nunes; in the Senate, Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) co-sponsored it.
“Today has been very special for my family,” Hubbard said.
“It has been a great end to a short journey.”