Jack Kramer photo
Sarah Greene of Branford (Jack Kramer photo)

Sarah Greene of Branford, in her own words, had it “hard enough as a single parent” raising two young children when her husband was killed during enemy action in Iraq 12 years ago.

What she wasn’t counting on was that she wouldn’t be able to take advantage of a government program which allows children of war veterans education benefits to attend college.

The reason?

Because her husband was dead — not alive.

Greene was joined at a press conference at the Legislative Office Building on Monday by U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, and Rep. Lonnie Reed, D-Branford, where all three called for passage of the Veterans First Act.

This bipartisan legislation includes a provision that will expand benefits to surviving spouses and dependents who lost a service member between Sept. 11, 2001, and Dec. 31, 2005, which includes full Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits and access to supplemental funding through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Yellow Ribbon Program.

Lt. Col. David S. Greene, 39, died July 28, 2004, due to enemy action in Al Anbar Province, Iraq. He was a reservist assigned to Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 775, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3D Marine Air Wing, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif.

“When Sarah reached out to me a year ago — sharing her courageous story, and raising concerns about her college-aged children and the cost of education — I knew immediately that we must do more to make sure Sarah’s children, and other spouses and children of service members who have made the ultimate sacrifice, are granted access to full VA education benefits,” Blumenthal said.

He said there’s a “great debt” the country owes to surviving military families.

Greene, a Vermont resident who moved back to Branford where she spent her summers when she was younger after her husband died, said it came as a shock to her when she learned her two children didn’t qualify for education benefits “because the serving parent had to be alive.”

She said she was already “extremely numb” dealing with the death of her husband, and raising two children, when she found out about the possibility of having no financial assistance to help her kids pay for college.

“I did start working, but I also had to immediately begin thinking about selling my house,” Greene said, stating that the bills were mounting. “The whole thing has been a difficult ordeal.”

Greene’s oldest child just finished college, at Trinity, and her youngest is currently in his junior year.

Reed said it is likely that even if legislation is passed it won’t be done soon enough to help Greene.

“But I am so proud of Sarah for leading this fight,” Reed said. “She’s doing it for other people’s children.

Blumenthal said he was “challenging his Senate colleagues to take action on this legislation” by July 4th of this year.

Asked why the original legislation didn’t cover the education costs of children of military who were killed in action, he said: “I would like to think it was just an inadvertent mistake. Frankly there is no reason it should fail (to pass). I’m sure it will.”

Blumenthal added that the measure has bipartisan support and there is “no organized opposition to passing the legislation.”

He estimated that when and if the legislation passes, it would provide immediate education benefits for up to 2,000 families across the country.