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Widow of slain LI veteran gets death benefit restored

Congressman Tim Bishop and deceased U.S. Army veteran

Congressman Tim Bishop and deceased U.S. Army veteran Sgt. Ryan Dickinson's family, wife Heather Dickson, Mother Donna Leibenow, son Luke and daughter Nevaeh Dickson announce successful efforts to assist the family at Lake Ronkonkoma American Legion Post on Saturday Aug. 2, 2014. Credit: Kristy Leibowitz

The widow of a Long Island veteran gunned down by a fellow soldier credits political pressure for reinstating her late husband's life insurance policy -- and securing her children's future.

Heather Dickinson, choking up during her remarks Saturday, said the $400,000 death benefit received in June has been placed in trust for the couple's two young children.

"My husband Ryan would be honored that such amazing people have stuck up for his family, and proud to know that there are people who truly care about his family's future," Dickinson, 27, of Holbrook said at the Lake Ronkonkoma American Legion Post.

The family learned that retired Army Sgt. Ryan Dickinson's policy had been canceled as they prepared to bury him last year. They reached out to Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), who persuaded the Veterans Affairs department to provide the payout.

Dickinson, 26, was shot to death by another soldier last September after getting into an argument at a barbecue on the Fort Hood base in Texas. Sgt. Brett Wessel, 27, an active-duty Afghanistan War veteran, was charged with murder and is awaiting trial.

Dickinson, who had been treated for post-traumatic stress disorder and ankle and lower back injuries, retired for medical reasons. He was honorably discharged in 2012 after seven years of service, including a tour in Iraq.

He died before his life insurance could be converted from a service member's policy to a veteran's one, officials said.

Bishop's office wrote the Veterans Affairs department, arguing that, barring the tragedy, the application process would have been completed before the one-year deadline.

"There is absolutely nothing that will bring Ryan back," Bishop said Saturday. "But at least there is some measure of financial security that has now been provided, as well it should've been."

"He deserved it and his family deserves it. Now they have some hope . . . in this terrible tragedy," said Dickinson's mother, Donna Liebenow of Oakdale.

Dickinson enlisted six months after graduating from Connetquot High School in 2005. He served a 15-month tour in Iraq that ended in 2009. His work included clearing roadside bombs.

At the American Legion hall, a folded American flag -- the one that had been draped over his coffin -- sat on a table next to a framed photo of the soldier in uniform, taken in 2009 when he returned to a hero's welcome at Long Island MacArthur Airport.

"He just loved his country, loved his family," his mother said. "And he's here with us now. I feel it."

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