widow, and his orphan" Abraham Lincoln
I need your help to make right the greatest injustice of my life.
You cannot see a brain disease by looking at someone, but the consequences of brain injuries are real and are devastating.
My husband--Michael J. Bonagura--was a US Marine Raider in World War II. He fought in many famous battles in the Pacific Theater, including the Battle for Guadalcanal.
During the war he experienced many head injuries, barely surviving a severe concussion that left him unconscious for 72 hours.
After his death, I learned he suffered from a condition called CTE or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.
Michael always did his best to provide for his family. Remember that one special teacher who changed your life? Michael was that teacher! We couldn't go anywhere without meeting his former students. While he was alive, we did OK, putting three children through college with no consumer debt whatsoever.
Michael retired at age 53 due to declining health from a number of service-related disabilities.
A few months before leaving school, he filled out his pension application indicating I was to receive survivor benefits; if he were to die before me, I would still get his Pension from the NJ Division of Pensions. In truth, he knew he wouldn't live very long. He couldn't even get life insurance because of his service-connected disabilities!
He submitted two retirement applications indicating survivor benefits for me, but somehow on the third and final application, the first two returned for things like cross outs and wrong dates, he mistakenly checked the wrong box indicating I was not to receive these survivor benefits on which my life depended.
I only learned this after he died and his pension checks stopped.
On that third application there were other numerous and glaring errors, like an incorrect Social Security Number, for example.
I have fought the NJ Division of Pensions for more than 25 years, and I even had a hearing, but we did not have the scientific evidence regarding CTE. The judge said without evidence to the contrary, Michael must have been of sound mind.
Doctor Ann McKee of Boston University, one of the word's foremost experts on CTE, wrote the following in a letter supporting my case:
“As an internationally recognized expert in the late effects of brain trauma, it is my opinion that Mr.Bonagura was suffering from severe posttraumatic neurodegeneration at the time that he filled outhis pension forms. His weakened mental state, memory loss, and cognitive impairment easily explainany mistakes he made when filling out the forms, in fact it would be expected that his mental
confusion would produce such errors. It is also clear from the many letters of support from friendsand acquaintances that Mr. Bonagura had every intention of providing for his wife of more thanforty years after his death, but was unable to understand the meaning of specific parts of thepension form and filled it out incorrectly.”
To this day, the NJ Division of Pensions refuses to speak to me .
They will not respond to my correspondence or review the new evidence I discovered and sent to them.
And they will not reopen the case under any circumstances.
When I had my hearing, the judge did not see the medical documentation we have now. He could not comprehend what I tried to explain to him, that there was something wrong with Michael's brain.
The bureaucrats in Trenton have withheld approximately $300,000 from me. These are the benefits my husband worked so hard for, even with all his disabilities, to provide for me all those years while teaching US History at Middlesex High School in New Jersey.
Without his pension, I have gone deeply into debt.
I now suffer from anxiety and worry, greatly affecting my health.
My husband and his fellow Marine Raiders were the ones who first defeated the Japanese Empire in the Pacific. They turned the tide of the Pacific war!
I only want to pay off my consumer debt and be able to make my mortgage payments for the rest of my life.
I also want to find peace with the memory of my husband, who never would have allowed this financial mess to happen to me if he were alive.
Marines, no matter what they are going through, always complete their jobs. He cannot complete this job, so you must do it for him.
I am seeking good people of this nation to help out the widow of a real American hero.
Thank you for reading this and listening to my story.
Sincerely, Gertrude Bonagura.