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More help offered to soldiers' survivors

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Associated Press / August 21, 2008
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WASHINGTON - The Army is mailing out thousands of letters to survivors of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, asking what it can do to better help them, even years after the deaths of their loved ones.

The Army recognizes that it has made mistakes in some of its dealings with the families of fallen soldiers, said Colonel Carl M. Johnson, director of the Army's Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Operation Center. And the letter encourages families to be candid in their comments and suggestions.

About 13,500 letters have been sent this month, and copies are expected to reach about 20,000 survivors of those killed while on active duty with the Army since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks - either in a war zone, in the United States, or elsewhere.

Some families may have been offended by past actions, Johnson said, and the Army wants them to know that the service has learned from its mistakes, has made changes, and wants to make additional improvements.

The Army is now committed to providing services to survivors not just in the immediate period after soldiers' deaths but for as long as the families want the help, he said.

The letter informs families that meetings will take place with survivors over the next several weeks at military installations and that they will be receiving additional information about how to attend.

The military has made several changes in how it works with families after a soldier's death. It now provides help not just to soldiers' spouses, if they are married, but to soldiers' parents as well. About six months after a death, the Army also sends a questionnaire to family members asking what it did right and wrong.

In 2006, the Army created a long-term case management office tasked with answering questions about how to file Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain records about a soldier's death and with assisting with other matters.

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