Foundation Aids Families of Former CIA Officers

 

By Rachel Kirkland

There were fewer than 80 stars on a wall honoring fallen CIA officers when a foundation to support those officers’ families was established in December 2001.

As of May 2017, the Memorial Wall had 125.

“There’s been an upsurge in stars put on the wall since 9/11 compared to all that had been put up before that time,” said CIA Officers Memorial Foundation President Jerry Komisar. “It’s indicative of the fact that more and more CIA officers are in harm’s way performing intelligence support missions in the various war zones, of which there are many these days.”

The CIA was established in 1947. The foundation came about not long after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center and following the death of Johnny Michael Spann in Afghanistan in 2001.

“Some of our agency’s iconic figures were charged by then-Director George Tenet to create an organization to support the families of our fallen officers as more casualties could be expected in the war on terrorism,” Komisar said.

Starting with a modest budget, the foundation in the early years officered $5,000 scholarships to dependents of CIA officers killed in the line of duty, Komisar said. As resources increased, so did the foundation’s reach. It now offers college scholarships to children and spouses of CIA officers and contractors killed in the line of duty honored with a star on the Memorial Wall; families of CIA officers who die from natural causes while serving on active duty or who die within two years after retiring on medical disability; and the families of officers and contractors severely wounded while assigned to an agency-designated war zone.

The foundation has awarded 110 scholarships exceeding $6 million so far and has 120 additional individuals already lined up to receive scholarships when they become college age.

Additionally, on a case by case basis, families are awarded financial aid for immediate needs such as burial costs, counseling of various types and other financial obligations.

Komisar said the foundation helps fill an need that is, unfortunately, increasing. Although Congress has approved additional financial assistance to families in recent years, it doesn’t cover the full cost of higher education, and is limited to the families of officers engaged in certain situations.

Through generous donations and a heightened effort to raise awareness, the foundation has over the years become better known, Komisar said. The need for ongoing support continues, particularly as the number of fallen officers rises and the cost of a college education increases.

“For the academic year 2017 to 2018, we’ve awarded for the first time over $1 million for scholarship assistance for 43 students, whereas in the past, 43 students would have cost much less,” Komisar said.

The foundation’s banner fundraiser is the Richard M. Helms award dinner held each spring in Northern Virginia. Komisar also travels around the country speaking at smaller fundraising and awareness events.

“The response around the country to the foundation’s mission and needs has been outstanding,” he said.

A donation page and additional information is available at www.ciamemorialfoundation.org. Inquiries can be sent to scholarships@ciamemorialfoundation.org.