U.S. Senator Todd Young (R-Ind.) recently introduced the Doug Zembiec Gold Star Family Support Act of 2022 to create a pilot program to provide qualified grief companions to improve bereavement care for survivors.
Major Doug Zembiec was a United States Naval Academy classmate of Senator Young who was also commissioned into the Marine Corps following graduation. An infantry and Force Reconnaissance officer, Major Zembiec led Marines in combat during the Iraq War. Following his tragic death in action in 2007, his family received assistance from casualty assistance officers, but more could have been done to provide comfort as they responded to the trauma of losing Doug.
Originally an idea of Doug’s wife Pam, this legislation will ensure that the Department of Defense is prioritizing the comfort and care of survivors as they transition out of the military community and throughout the grieving process.
“Our Gold Star families suffer tremendous loss when their loved one pays the ultimate price and sacrifices their life for our freedoms. I’ve made it a priority to protect these Hoosier families who have already given so much. While the military has Service Members and Chaplains standing by to assist, providing someone who understands their loss and is able to walk them through their grief is a vital component that this pilot program aims to address,” said Senator Young.
“Military spouses have the strength of a thousand, but the sudden, tragic, and violent death of my husband was unlike any other life adversity, his loss shattered my world. If I would’ve had someone like me to accompany my casualty assistance officer, someone sent from our government with lived experience during the initial year, it would have eased the strain. We need the expertise of our casualty officers, but they need the help of someone with lived experience. Surviving military families will have their own experience within a complex military culture and having someone to help them find what benefits and services best suit their unique needs is imperative to the idiosyncratic nature of grief. Most importantly, as a servicemember never leaves another servicemember behind on the battlefield, as a country, we mustn’t leave behind their family members in the aftermath of the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms,” said Pam Zembiec
No later than 90 days after the date the bill is passed, the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness will carry out a pilot program on providing training to, validating, and deploying grief companions to facilitate bereavement care provided by the Department of Defense following casualty notifications.
In 2019 and 2020, Senator Young introduced a resolution to designate September 20-26 as “Gold Star Families Remembrance Week” to honor the families of fallen members of the Armed Forces. Gold Star Families Remembrance Week precedes Gold Star Mother’s Day, observed since 1936 on the last Sunday of September.