A measure to expand protections to dependents of service members killed or seriously injured in the line of duty was unanimously approved by the House of Representatives on Tuesday.
House Resolution 2227 was co-sponsored by Congressman Brad Wenstrup (R-OH) and Congresswoman Cherri Bustos (D-IL), in an effort to prevent what happened to the family of an Illinois soldier from ever happening again.
Wenstrup said that he and Bustos began working together during the 115th Congress after she learned of the plight of the family of Sgt. Douglas Riney, who was killed while serving in Afghanistan in 2016.
According to Wenstrup, himself an active service member who served in Iraq, Riney’s wife wanted to bring their two children back home to Illinois where the rest of their family lived.
But in the wake of the tragedy of her husband’s death during active duty, her landlord refused to allow her to end the lease that she and her late husband signed.
“That’s just real cold,” Wenstrup said. “On a personal note, when I got called up, I had just leased a car and only had it a few weeks and it was looking like I was going to be gone for a least a year, maybe up to 18 months.”
He said he contacted the dealer and they immediately terminated the lease, “which is the kind of thing you’d expect.”
Cailin Hoskins, a veteran’s service officer with the Highland County Veterans Service Office in Hillsboro, said that it’s unfortunate situations like what happened to the Riney’s sometimes happen, but like Wenstrup, she is grateful that when she and her husband were deployed, one company went out of its way to help the couple.
“We were still making payments on our cell phones, not the bills, but the actual phones,” she said. “And when we gave the cell phone company copies of our orders, they paid off the balance of what we owed.”
She said that there are programs in place to take care of service members and veterans, and acknowledged that there are always family and people in the background that support them.
“They wouldn’t be able to do what they’re doing for our country without their family and friends,” Hoskins said.
Wenstrup and Bustos introduced the Gold Star Spouses Leasing Relief Act to prevent situations like what happened to the Rineys, and it was included in the Veterans Benefits and Transition Act of 2018 and signed into law, with the bill allowing the spouses of service members killed in the line of duty to terminate a property lease without penalty.
The two then fought to get legislative language in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020 that would extend the protections to include auto leases.
“This has been somewhat incremental, going from property leases to auto leases without penalty,” Wenstrup said. “This allows spouses and dependents of service members who are killed or catastrophically injured in the line of duty the ability to get out of these leases, and it’s kind of a shame that we have to legislate this sort of thing.”
Hoskins is a veteran and was deployed to both Afghanistan and Iraq in 2017-18, with the rank Spec. 4 in air defense artillery.
Wenstrup is an Iraq War veteran, having served a tour of duty in 2005-06.
He currently holds the rank of colonel in the United States Army Reserves.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.