By Contributing Editor Blair Drake
Donna Martin’s mission is to ensure military surviving spouses are not forgotten. Though she does not come from a military family and did not meet her late husband until after he retired from service, she has a strong appreciation for the sacrifices military spouses make.
“When we would attend reunions, I would listen to the wives talking, and they would tell stories about being stationed overseas … and all they have gone through, and I what I realized is they didn’t get paid for serving, but they served every bit as much as their military spouses,” she said. “I think they need to be remembered for their service.”
As surviving spouse liaison for MOAA's Greater Birmingham (Ala.) Chapter, she has the opportunity to do just that by ensuring surviving spouses of servicemembers have the support and resources they need following the death of their spouse.
Martin chairs the chapter’s ladies’ committee that maintains contact with surviving spouse members and plans semi-annual luncheons for surviving spouses and spouses of living military members. The luncheon programs include a legislative update and speakers with information on topics such as veterans’ benefits, financial planning, and community resources. When a servicemember dies, Martin assigns a member of the committee to reach out to the new surviving spouse.
She also writes or shares timely articles for the monthly chapter newsletter, and she stays abreast of MOAA legislative issues and participates in activities.
In the summer of 2019, she attended a focus group with then-Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) regarding the bill to eliminate the Survivor Benefit Plan-Dependency and Indemnity Compensation offset. During the fall of 2019, she attended a town hall meeting with Jones and thanked him for his sponsoring the bill to eliminate the offset.
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Additionally, Martin used her background in computer programming to create and now maintain the chapter database and works closely with the membership chairman to track members.
For her efforts, Martin is a recipient of MOAA’s 2021 Surviving Spouse Liaison Excellence Award.
“The list of things that Donna has done and been involved in for the chapter is nearly too long to list,” said Lt. Col. Michael Walker, USA (Ret), chapter membership chair. “She is one of those hard workers who never complains and quietly gets the job done. Working with outstanding people like her is always a pleasure.”
Martin said receiving this award motivates her to continue to support surviving spouses however she can. She also feels grateful she has been given the chance to help.
“When I was thinking about retiring, I would ask retired people, ‘What do you do with your day? How do you use your time?’” she said. “One person responded: ‘I’ve been given to most of life, so it’s my time to give back.’ I couldn’t agree more. MOAA has given me that opportunity to give back.”
Blair Drake is a contributing editor for MOAA and lives in Souderton, Pa. She previously served on the editorial team of Military Officer magazine for nine years.