Army reaches out to troops' survivors

The Army is mailing out thousands of letters to survivors of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, asking what it can do to better help them, even years after the deaths of their loved ones.

The Army recognizes it's made mistakes in some dealings with families of fallen soldiers, Col. Carl Johnson, director of the Army's Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Operation Center, said. And the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, encourages families to be candid in comments and suggestions.

About 13,500 letters have been sent this month, and copies are expected to reach about 20,000 survivors of those killed while on active duty with the Army since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks – in a war zone, in the U.S. or elsewhere.

Some families may have been offended by past actions, Johnson said, and the Army wants them to know the service has learned from mistakes, has made changes and wants additional improvements.

“Some of them may have said, ‘You know what, I don't need to be a part of the Army any more because they don't want me or they don't know how to treat me,'” Johnson said. “Well, we've learned a lot and I think we've improved a lot, and this is a way to reconnect with them.”

The Army has made a significant shift and is now committed to providing services to survivors – not just in the immediate period after soldiers' deaths, but for as long as the families want the help, he said.

The letter came as a surprise to Judy Faunce, whose son, Capt. Brian Faunce, 28, was electrocuted in 2003 in Iraq while he was in a Bradley fighting vehicle. Faunce, whose son grew up in Bensalem, Pa., said it had been years since she'd heard from the Army.

“I think it's wonderful that they're going to reach out and offer assistance to families that may need it … but I really never expected anything from the Army, so getting this letter was a surprise,” said Faunce, who lives in Ocean, N.J.

Following complaints from families, the military has made several changes. For example, more assistance is provided not just to soldiers' spouses, if they are married, but to soldiers' parents as well.

About six months after a death, the Army also sends a questionnaire to family members asking what it did right and wrong.