Nation & World

With California family at his side, Bush signs sole survivor benefits law

WASHINGTON — President Bush on Friday signed the Hubbard Act, surrounded by members of the Fresno-area family whose multiple sacrifices inspired the military pay-and-benefits law.

"Today has been very special for my family, for the president of the United States to take time out from his busy schedule," said Jason Hubbard, the family's sole surviving son. "My family has been very humbled by the way we've been treated."

Bush took but a second to sign the Hubbard Act itself, restoring recruitment bonuses and assorted benefits to sole survivors who are discharged early from the military. He took more time to commiserate with eight members of the Hubbard family gathered around his Oval Office desk.

For parents Peggy and Jeff Hubbard, far from their Clovis home, this was the moment that mattered most.

"It was a personal visit (of) the president of the United States with parents who have lost two sons to this war," Jason Hubbard said on the White House driveway following the bill signing. "They felt it was a very special time to have, to have appreciation shown directly to them."

Currently a 35-year-old Fresno County deputy sheriff, working patrol, Hubbard survived an Iraq combat tour. His brothers Jared and Nathan did not.

Jared, a Marine lance corporal, died in Iraq's Anbar Province in November 2004. A year later, Nathan and Jason Hubbard enlisted in the Army. In August 2007, Nathan Hubbard died in a helicopter crash near the Iraq city of Kirkuk.

Following standard Pentagon practice, Jason Hubbard was then able as a sole survivor to win an early honorable discharge. The policy, with roots going back to the loss of five Sullivan brothers sunk aboard the USS Juneau in World War II, is supposed to spare families from unrelieved disaster.

But because Jason Hubbard left prior to completing his original three-year commitment, the Army made him pay back $2,000 of his enlistment bonus. He was also denied standard education and other benefits.

Enter Congress.

Working initially through the offices of Reps. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, and Jim Costa, D-Fresno, Hubbard inspired a fast-moving bill that restores the pay and benefits for members of the military who lose a sibling or parent as a result of military service. Sole survivors will receive 120 days of transitional health coverage, access to commissaries and standard veteran's benefits, including school and home loans.

The bill will cover more than 50 sole-survivor veterans discharged since Sept. 11, 2001. The Pentagon estimates about 20 additional soldiers a year will be affected, with the bill costing an estimated $1 million over five years.

"There are a lot of people that will benefit," Jason Hubbard said, noting that he already has been contacted by a number of sole survivor veterans who likewise had felt themselves to be "a little bit abandoned" by the government.

Showing they can move quickly when they want to, House members introduced the bill April 16 and approved it July 29. The Senate followed suit Aug. 1, with a bill authored by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein. The only reason the bill signing didn't happen earlier was because San Joaquin Valley lawmakers were trying to arrange a White House ceremony for the Hubbard family.

"We're honoring a family, and a soldier who has given up more than his fair share," Nunes said Friday morning.

Costa, noting the "bipartisan fashion" under which the Hubbard Act moved, added that "today, a wrong has been righted." Not every pain, though, can be eased or even shared. Peggy and Jeff Hubbard on Friday morning avoided the camera crews and reporters assembled under gray clouds outside the White House.

Costa and Nunes accompanied the Hubbards to the bill signing, standing on one side of Bush while the family members stood on the other. Smiling, Jason Hubbard reported that his 3-year-old son Elijah Jared and his 2-month-old son Levi Nathan remained orderly and respectful during the White House ceremony.

Hubbard's wife, Linnea, was pregnant with Levi Nathan when he was denied standard medical benefits, the event that instigated the Hubbard family's political journey.

"I was just looking for a little fix with (my) problem," Jason Hubbard said. "It's been impressive to me, as a layman and as a soldier, to see this process that has happened so quickly. As a country, we can see that when there's a real problem or something wrong, we can come together and solve it."