Yo, Congress: Step Up For The Spouses Of The Fallen And Pass THIS Bill

Written by Wes Walker on July 31, 2019

Politicians keep talking about how ‘important’ bipartisanship is. This one should be a slam dunk.

Why wouldn’t it? Both parties claim to care about our heroes, don’t they? Especially those who pay the highest price.

Shouldn’t we care just as much about the families they leave behind?

That being said, Congress is broken. If the building was on fire, they would stop to bicker about who’s responsibility it should be to call 911.

If they’re going to pass this, they’ll need some urging from the people who can put them out of a job.

Here’s what advocates are trying to make happen for the spouses of the fallen, as taken from a letter from two Senators calling for these important changes:

We write to ask you to include House-passed provisions which repeal the Survivor Benefit Plan
– Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (SBP-DIC) offset, the so-called “widow’s tax,” in the final National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 (NDAA) conference agreement. The widow’s tax prevents more than 67,000 surviving spouses of servicemen and women who die of service related causes from receiving the full SBP annuities they deserve.

As a result of the widow’s tax, tens of thousands of surviving spouses are prevented from collecting the full insurance benefits from the Department of Defense for which their military retiree spouses paid because those benefits are offset by the DIC payments they receive from the Department of Veterans Affairs. On average, this offset means that surviving spouses are denied more than $11,000 per year in SBP benefits. In response to this unfairness, thousands of military widows have become grassroots advocates, working in many cases for more than 30 years to right this wrong for their own families and the entire military family community.

There has never before been more bipartisan support in Congress for repealing the SBP-DIC offset. Currently, there are 75 co-sponsors of legislation to repeal the widow’s tax in the Senate and 371 co-sponsors in the House. Numerous military and veterans advocacy groups have joined us in this effort.

We have an obligation to make sure that we are taking care of our military families who have sacrificed so much. This problem goes back decades, but this year we can finally solve it once and for all. It is our time to do our duty not only to support the brave men and women of our military, but also to support their families.
Thank you for your consideration of this request.

The letter is undersigned by Senators Doug Jones(D) and Susan Collins(R).

Here are some of the particulars driving this push, as taken from a ‘Factsheet’.

Objective: To repeal the Federal law that requires a $1 reduction in a Department of Defense (DoD) Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) insurance annuity for each $1 received in benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) program. Eligible surviving spouses should receive both SBP and DIC with no offset. SBP is an insurance annuity earned by years of service and/or paid for as income protection for surviving family members. It is not standard practice for insurance programs to deny payment because a beneficiary receives income from another source. Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) – a DoD insurance annuity program that was established by Congress in1972 to provide income protection to survivors of retired military personnel.
• SBP is a voluntary insurance annuity for which military retirees pay premiums from their retired pay; currently a maximum of 6.5% monthly. When the retired service member passes away, SBP provides a maximum annuity payment of 55% of retired pay to the survivor, dependent upon the amount purchased.
• Following 9/11, Congress expanded SBP eligibility to include all servicemembers who die on active duty. For these active duty servicemembers, SBP provides the maximum coverage of 55% of projected retired pay, which depends upon grade and posthumous retirement awarded w/30 years of service. Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) – a VA benefit paid to survivors of a military service member who died on active duty, a veteran whose death resulted from a service-related injury or disease, or a veteran whose death resulted from a non service-related injury or disease, but who was receiving, or was entitled to receive, VA Compensation for service-connected disability that was rated as totally disabling for either 5 years from disability retirement or 10 years.
• Serves as a reparation or indemnity (hold harmless) payment for the death.
• Provides a flat rate payment, currently $1,319.04 per month, regardless of the servicemembers’ grade or length of service. The Offset – Federal law requires a $1 reduction in SBP annuity for each $1 received in DIC.
• For most active duty enlisted deaths, the SBP/DIC offset eliminates the SBP annuity, leaving survivors a total annual income of $15,828 ($1,319.04 X 12 months).
• As of 2018, 273,647 of the surviving spouses currently receiving SBP, 65,255 were subjected to the offset.
• The average offset of DIC to SBP is $925 a month.
• $615 a month will close the gap and finally eliminate the offset when SSIA is subtracted.
• Military retirees whose survivors will be eligible to receive DIC often have limited options to purchase life insurance because of their history of disability. Widows who remarry after age 57 and surviving spouses of government civilians are exempt from the offset:
• On December 16, 2003, the Veterans’ Benefits Act of 2003, P.L. 108-183, repealed DIC offsets for widows who remarry after the age of 57. On July 19, 2007, three widows sued the U.S. government, arguing that the Act applies equally to the DIC offset of SBP. On August 26, 2009, in Sharp v. United States, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled that widows who remarry after age 57 must receive full SBP and DIC payments without an offset. The ruling created two distinct classes of widows affected by the SBP-DIC offset, those who remarry after age 57 and those who do not. If you do not remarry, your SBP will be offset.
• Surviving spouses of federal civilian retirees, who are also disabled veteran retirees that paid for SBP and die of a service-connected cause, can receive both DIC and SBP without incurring the offset or losing any of their purchased SBP benefits. This is because the retiree’s status may be converted from a military retiree to civilian annuity, which is not offset.

Congress is dysfunctional, to be sure.

But isn’t this a ‘non-partisan’ cause they can rise above their difference to support?

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