The Cable

Families of Marines Killed on Humanitarian Missions Get Fewer Benefits

Like the families of the 1,400 U.S. Marines killed in action in recent years, Andrea and Jim Hug of Phoenix, Arizona planned to travel to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware this month to receive their son’s coffin after getting news that he died in a helicopter crash in Nepal.

Nepalese army personel and others gather in front of a Nepalese helicopter, whose crew spotted the wreckage of a US Marine helicopter, at the army air base in Kathmandu on May 15, 2015  The US military said it expected to find no survivors after locating the wreckage of a helicopter that went missing with eight people on board in earthquake-devastated Nepal.  AFP PHOTO / PRAKASH MATHEMA        (Photo credit should read PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images)
Nepalese army personel and others gather in front of a Nepalese helicopter, whose crew spotted the wreckage of a US Marine helicopter, at the army air base in Kathmandu on May 15, 2015 The US military said it expected to find no survivors after locating the wreckage of a helicopter that went missing with eight people on board in earthquake-devastated Nepal. AFP PHOTO / PRAKASH MATHEMA (Photo credit should read PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images)

Like the families of the 1,400 U.S. Marines killed in action in recent years, Andrea and Jim Hug of Phoenix, Ariz., planned to travel to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware this month to receive their son’s coffin after getting news that he died in a helicopter crash in Nepal.

But unlike other families, the Hugs were informed this month that they’d have to cover their own travel costs to Delaware because their son, Marine Lance Cpl. Jacob Hug, was killed during a humanitarian operation, rather than a combat mission, which disqualifies them for travel compensation.

The additional financial burden for grieving relatives, not insignificant for many military families, infuriated some on Capitol Hill, given the seemingly arbitrary distinction between a life lost in the act of humanitarian work versus battlefield operations.

Fortunately for the Hug family, the Pentagon waived the rule late Wednesday after advocates on Capitol Hill raised the issue with the Defense Department. Now, some lawmakers want to see a permanent fix to a rule criticized as discriminatory.

“In this instance, the department issued a memo authorizing an exception to this policy requested by the Marine Corps,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cdr. Nate Christensen told Foreign Policy.

Hug was killed last week with five other Marines and two Nepalese soldiers in a helicopter crash after being deployed to Nepal as a part of the U.S. relief mission in the quake-ravaged country.

On April 25, the country was rocked by a 7.8-magnitude earthquake that killed more than 8,200 people. A second quake, with a 7.3-magnitude, on May 12 killed at least 117 people and injured almost 2,800.

The UH-1 Huey went missing May 12 after it dropped off supplies in one destination and was headed to another. Hug and his fellow Marines were delivering rice and tarps to desperate survivors.

Investigators have not yet determined the cause of the crash. The copter’s wreckage was found May 15, following a search through the mountainous region northeast of Kathmandu. U.S. and Nepalese military units recovered three bodies that day and rest on May 16.

Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), one of the family’s chief advocates on Capitol Hill, is working to change the law so that the families of servicemembers killed during humanitarian operations don’t have to go through the same difficulty during their moment of grief, according to his spokesman.

“He is currently working on amending provisions in law that prohibit funding for these trips for the families of soldiers who lose their lives on missions outside of designated combat theaters,” spokesman Tristan Daedalus told FP.

Salmon “has been very pleased to work with the Pentagon to ensure that Mr. and Mrs. Hug are able to travel to Dover and meet their son when he returns to U.S. soil,” he said.

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