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Marine’s Plight Changes Health Provision

November 8, 2003

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) _ For one day, Jesse Spiri was a Marine lieutenant looking ahead to his dream of a military career.

Next day came the sudden onset of brain cancer, which he battled for two months before his death at age 21, without the help of the government he had sworn to defend.

Insurers said Spiri wasn’t eligible for treatment because he was not yet on active duty.

Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., agreed with Spiri’s parents that the Marine deserved treatment, and for two years pressed Congress to close the ``loophole″ that had denied him medical care.

On Friday, Domenici said the job was done. He announced that the final version of the 2004 Defense Authorization Bill _ approved by House and Senate conference negotiators _ contains a provision with Spiri’s name on it that ensures that military personnel on inactive-reserve status have access to military health benefits while awaiting active duty status.

``What should have been done wasn’t done,″ said Spiri’s father, Jim Spiri, reached at Waikaloa, Hawaii. ``He should have been able to receive the highest, highest medical treatment.″

``The Spiri amendment will work to close a loophole in the way medical coverage is granted to military men and women to avoid future tragedies like the one that took Jesse Spiri’s life,″ Domenici said.

Spiri was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant May 11, 2001, the day he graduated from Western New Mexico University in Silver City. He was stricken with the cancer May 12. He died July 7.

Told of Domenici’s announcement Friday, Jim Spiri said: ``It is a victory for every soldier that raises his hand and signs up. He will from this point on know that his health care is covered.″

Jim Spiri vowed to be there when President Bush signs the Defense Authorization Bill. The Spiris say they have been trying to heal in Hawaii; they call Silver City their home.

Meanwhile, the Spiris’ other son, Army CW1 Jimmy Spiri is undergoing helicopter flight training at Fort Rucker, Ala.

He has been in the military 3 1/2 years and recently returned from nearly 18 months active duty in Afghanistan and Iraq, where he was a door gunner on Chinook helicopters.

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