Military widow fights for military benefits

Basco soldier Nathan Earls

A military wife not only lost her husband, but possibly her future. After a long fight with cancer, Basco soldier Nathan Earls lost his life, but it looks like his wife lost her benefits as well.

Earls died at the age of 33 from Synovial Sarcoma, a cancer a specialist from Barnes-Jewish Hospital believes he contracted while on duty in Iraq. He was stationed at a burn pit, a place where soldiers burn all kinds of waste like plastic, trash and diesel fuel engines.

"If you fought for our country, you should get every benefit you could possibly get. There should be no question that you get retirement, you get medical coverage ... you should get payment for that," Frani said.

Earls was discharged without retirement from active duty because he couldn't pass the physical ability test. This was due to an injury he received during training over seas. Veteran's Affairs paid for some of his medical bills, but under a number of restrictions.

Frani Earls is Nathan's widow. Ever since he was diagnosed with cancer, she said they have had difficulty with receiving veteran support from Veteran's Affairs. The main issue being connecting the cancer to the burn pit.

Nathan received a soldier's funeral on December first. Friends of Nathan from the Iowa National Guard volunteered to give him the funeral he deserved. One of Nathan's friends from the National Guard took a course allowing him to organize a military funeral.

Frani is fighting for medical and widow benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (V.A.)

Veteran's benefits specialist John Halstead couldn't speak to Frani's case, but said that widow benefits are only eligible to couples married for more than a year. Frani and Nathan were three weeks short.

Veteran's Affairs offered some financial support to Nathan during his fight with cancer. Frani filed a Federal Tort Claim to receive full benefits.

Frani found support from another widow who's husband received a rare form of cancer while stationed at the same base as Nathan around the same time period. Veteran's Affairs linked that specific cancer to the burn pit. Frani is hopeful the same will happen for Nathan.

She said that Senators Dick Durbin, Tom Harkin, and David Loebsack are joining in with support for the Earls family.