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New plan in the works to help surviving family of deceased veterans

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Posted at 7:26 PM, Dec 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-14 20:26:46-05

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Amelia Justice and her husband, Thomas, were inseparable ever since they met on military active duty in California back in 1981.

They enjoyed 40 years of wedded bliss, including two beautiful children who also joined the service.

Holiday gatherings, trips and their shared passion for art kept their love alive.

"The art world was open to us," Amelia said. "The outdoor world was open to us."

They enjoyed a happy life until 2014, when that world would begin to fall apart.

Thomas suffered a medical setback. During a flight physical, he was told he suffered something that was like a stroke and his condition worsened after his military retirement.

"Then all the medications started," Amelia said. "Then he got hurt and didn't heal. Things just started to go downhill."

Thomas ended up in the hospital, and two weeks later, he died.

Because of COVID-19 attendance restrictions, Amelia had to wait more than three months to hold a private gathering for Thomas at their beloved Art Center of Corpus Christi.

It was a service that did not include full military honors.

"That's what he deserved," she said. "And he should have had that, but I couldn't get it done."

Since Thomas' death, Amelia has be stunned by all of the phone calls she has had to make just to try to get matters like surviving benefits, retirement pay and funeral services handled.

It's much the same for so many other surviving families of deceased veterans, like Wanda Arnold. In her case, her benefits were delayed until she could get her husband's death certificate amended to include a service-related cause of death.

While these families grieve, they are also all on the their own to deal with the aftermath of the death of their loved ones who fought for their country. Many times, they get what appears to be the runaround.

"Call this person," Amelia said. "Call that person. Not one phone call back."

Amelia wonders why surviving families of veterans are not treated the same as military members serving on active duty.

"They would be the one who would walk you through the military side of what you need," she said.

KRIS 6 News took Amelia's concerns, and others like hers, to Nueces County Veterans Services Officer J.J. De La Cerda, who pledged to not only help her with survivor benefits and a memorial with full military honors.

Not only that, but he also pledged to work right now to create a proactive, step-by-step program for surviving family members in the future.

"It's about helping everyone, not only in the Coastal Bend but maybe we can make this a national thing where it's a program that's a go-to program," said De La Cerda.