It almost took an act of Congress for a senior couple to take their vows, but in the end, love prevailed.

Joyce Miller, 70, was married to her husband Charles for almost 46 years when he passed away in July 1995. He was retired from the Air Force with 20 years of faithful service and was receiving 100 percent disability, she said. Miller, as the spouse of a diseased veteran, was receiving Dependents Indemnity Compensation (DIC), and if she had remarried, it would have meant her losing her Veteran's Administration and health benefits. Miller, like many surviving spouses in her situation, never paid any attention to her benefits after her husband's death. The reason was simple. "I never expected to be remarried," she said.

In 1997, Miller left her home state of Texas and came to Quitman to live with her youngest of five children, Dr. Patricia Miller, a professor at Valdosta State University. Almost immediately she started attending the Quitman Church of Christ, where she made the acquaintance of E.B. Jones Jr. Jones had lost his wife, Doris, in February of 1995. Jones was married for 39 years, six months and three days, he said.

The couple knew each other from church, but their first encounter was during square dancing lessons in Valdosta on April 23, 2002. E.B. had been square dancing for about 23 years and Miller had been line dancing for about four years. She was trying to get the 80-year-old E.B. interested, she said. "Line dancing is for old people," E.B. added, laughing. Almost from the beginning, the two knew they wanted to get married, and the couple was officially engaged on June 8, 2002. When Miller told her daughter about the engagement, the VSU English professor said, "Ya'll better hurry up, you ain't got much time."

Having been a military spouse, Miller was interested in activities at Moody Air Force Base and read an article in The Valdosta Daily Times about the Moody AFB Retiree Activities Office, which was looking for volunteers. Later, she was contacted about volunteering with the office and started her volunteer work in May 2002, until the end of the year. While reading a retiree newsletter, she learned that there was talk about passing a bill that would allow the retention of DIC benefits if the surviving spouse remarries after the age of 55. "It was expected to pass at the end of 2003," Miller said.

President Bush had already signed Senate Bill 2237, The Veterans Benefits Act of 2002, into Public Law 107-330 on Dec. 6, 2002. This allowed surviving spouses after the age of 55 who remarried to have the benefits from the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Administration. The health care was taken care but DIC was still denied. The couple wanted to wait until the bill was passed before marrying. They had family from all over the nation contacting their congressmen urging them pass the bill.

Also, their friends and members from their church were also doing their part to contact the local law makers.

E.B. had been a farmer all his life and quit farming in 1999 when he was 76. He had relied on his Social Security benefits, which is hard for one person to live off, much less a couple. "Newlyweds can live on love, but 'oldyweds' have to have health care," Miller said.

On Dec. 16, 2003, Public Law 108-183 was signed by President Bush that permits a surviving spouse who remarries at age 57 or older to retain DIC, home loan and education benefits eligibility. There are a lot of people out there who wouldn't know about this law unless they read about it, Miller said.

Miller and Jones tied the knot on Jan. 24. "My great-granddaughters were my flower girls," Miller she proudly.

Jones' family is very happy with their father's marriage, and the same goes for Miller's family. "They're all good with it," Miller said. "On both sides of the family, our kids said they never thought they would see us this happy again."

"She was the perfect person -- no one else could take her place," E.B. said as he gently held her hand.

"I never told E.B. this, but if it (the law) hadn't passed in that session of Congress, I was planning on marrying E.B. anyway," Miller said. "I was throwing the consequences to the wind."

To contact reporter Rip Prine, please call 244-3400, ext. 237.

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