Gulf soldier's family disputes legacy with the Army Personal effects included authorization for insurance

June 23, 1992|By Elise Armacost | Elise Armacost,Staff Writer

The parents of Sgt. Ronald Randazzo, killed in the Persian Gulf war, say that the U.S. Army took not only their son but the financial security he thought he'd left behind.

Sergeant Randazzo, a Glen Burnie native, died Feb. 20, 1991, in a skirmish near the Saudi Arabian border. He was 24. Now his family is trying to collect a $250,000 life insurance policy he applied for shortly before he left for the gulf.

The Army refuses to pay.

Sergeant Randazzo's written authorization for a payroll deduction for life insurance was found with his personal effects. The Army claims never to have received it. Sergeant Randazzo's parents, Paul and Leona Randazzo, and Rep. Tom McMillen, D-4th, believe that Army officials lost the request sent them.

"I can only conclude that this is a classic but tragic case of a bureaucratic foul-up on the part of the Army," said Mr. McMillen, who has wrangled with the Army since March.

In an effort to draw attention to the Randazzos' problem, Mr. McMillen held a news conference in Glen Burnie yesterday morning. He hopes that if the Army encounters moral outrage at its treatment of the family of a slain soldier, it will pay the policy.

"I believe the Army still has a debt to pay," Mr. McMillen said. "It should honor the policy. Our military families sacrifice too many sons and daughters to leave this matter unresolved."

Mr. Randazzo said that his son called from Fort Hood, Texas, shortly after applying for the policy, to let his family know that they would be provided for if anything happened to him.

"My son wanted to leave a legacy to this family," he said, choking back tears. "Knowing this was one of a fallen son's last wishes, it would seem to me we should do whatever is necessary to correct the wrong."

Mr. Randazzo was surrounded by the dead soldier's mother, brothers, sister and nieces at Michael's Eighth Avenue, a restaurant in Glen Burnie.

Sergeant Randazzo was the next-to-youngest of five sons. Three of his brothers have served in the Army National Guard; one also served in the U.S. Air Force.

"I never really wanted to get to this point, because this family loves the Army and what it has done for all of our children," said Mr. Randazzo, who manages a car dealership in Upper Marlboro.

Army officials said that they have no record Sergeant Randazzo had ever submitted a so-called "military allotment authorization" to deduct a monthly premium for the $250,000 policy from his paycheck. But Mr. McMillen and the Randazzos are certain he applied properly.

One week before he applied for the $250,000 policy, Sergeant Randazzo correctly filled out the necessary paperwork for a $100,000 policy. He filled out two forms -- the application itself and the allotment authorization. Both were received and processed by the Army and American Amicable Life, which has paid that policy to the family.

Apparently deciding he wanted more coverage, Sergeant Randazzo made a second application Aug. 30, 1990, this time for a $250,000 policy from the Military Benefit Association. On the application, the sergeant checked a box saying that he was enclosing a copy of the military allotment authorization form. The form notes that his first $11.25 monthly premium was to be deducted in September 1990.

Though the insurance company approved the application, it canceled the policy Jan. 19, 1991; the company said it never received any premiums. Sergeant Randazzo was killed before a letter notifying him of the problem arrived in Saudi Arabia.

Mr. McMillen believes the Army should step forward and pay the Randazzos' what he believes they are denied because of a mix-up.

But the Army says it is not responsible. A review of its records at the Fort Hood Finance Office and the Defense Finance and Accounting Service in Indianapolis found that Sergeant Randazzo never submitted the allotment authorization, Army officials said.

Master Sgt. Walter Robertson, the Randazzos' casualty assistance officer stationed at Fort Meade, said that the allotment authorization form found among the dead soldier's belongings at Fort Hood was the original that should have been sent to Indianapolis. There were no copies of the form in his file at Fort Hood, Sergeant Robertson said.

Mr. and Mrs. Randazzo were named as beneficiaries of the $250,000 policy. Mrs. Randazzo was named beneficiary of the $100,000 policy, as well as the $50,000 policy provided by the Army to all soldiers.

Even if their son turned in the wrong form or forgot to turn in the right one, the Randazzos believe the Army is ultimately responsible for the error. "He had to hand this paper to somebody. Why wasn't this straightened out before he went over?" Mrs. Randazzo asked. "The Army goes by paperwork. It should have been straightened out."

If the Army continues to refuse to pay the policy, the Randazzos say they will take the matter to President Bush, who wrote them a personal letter after their son's death telling them to let him know if he could help. "I don't think he's going to let this die," Mr. Randazzo said.

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