Editorial: The Army owes benefits to local soldier’s family

07/31/2014 11:59 AM |
Army Sgt. Anthony Venetz (left) and 1st Lt. Gabriel ‘Buddy’ Gengler, who went to school together at Shoreham-Wading River High School, during a chance meeting in Baghdad. (Credit: Courtesy)

Army Sgt. Anthony Venetz (left) and 1st Lt. Gabriel ‘Buddy’ Gengler, who went to school together at Shoreham-Wading River High School, during a chance meeting in Baghdad. (Credit: Courtesy)

It’s fairly safe to say that when military personnel are deployed overseas they believe that if tragedy strikes their loved ones will be taken care of.

The U.S. Army takes many steps to ensure that life insurance policies are updated before deployment, for example. Beneficiaries are verified; the ‘i’ is dotted, the ‘t’ — like the fingers of the soldiers and their loved ones — is crossed. 

It’s only right that when a soldier dies defending his country, the Armed Forces ensure that surviving family members are protected financially.

That’s why it’s so disheartening to hear about the plight of Debbie Venetz and the two children she shared with Sgt. 1st Class Anthony Venetz Jr. of Wading River. Three and a half years after Sgt. Venetz died in his bunk at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan, his family has still not received the benefits typically bestowed on the immediate survivors of a fallen soldier.

That’s because the Army ruled that Sgt. Venetz’s death, which they classified as an accidental mixing of intoxications, was “not in the line of duty.”

Ami Neiberger-Miller, a spokesperson for TAPS, a tragedy assistance program for survivors, said a “not in the line of duty” ruling is extremely rare when a soldier dies during deployment. That type of determination is even more rare in the death of a Green Beret like Sgt. Venetz, she said.

If the findings of an unofficial follow-up investigation by Army Special Forces are accurate, we agree the case should be re-evaluated.

We also feel it never should have come to this.

Since when is this a country that turns its back on the surviving family members of any soldier who dies overseas? Regardless of what actually killed Sgt. Venetz, it’s hard to imagine his family being ignored or neglected by the Army he served so admirably for a decade.

Then again, this is a new era for our military.

We’re more aware now than ever of the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, and many of our veterans still return home without the proper assistance to treat such issues. Women in the military face unwanted sexual advances every day. And the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is embroiled in a high-profile scandal following reports that at least 40 veterans died while waiting for care at a VA Hospital in Phoenix, Ariz.

The way the Venetz family has been dismissed provides one more reason to lose faith in how our country treats members of its Armed Forces. But it’s a simple problem to fix.