Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo
I am committed to the needs of our servicemembers and their families. While personnel are deployed, their loved ones are tending to families and households, often meeting obligations without the daily help of the deployed. The dedication and efforts of military spouses and family members directly contribute to the strength of our armed forces and country. Military families are an integral part of the defense community and their needs continue should a servicemember pass away.
The families of veterans and service personnel who die through service are eligible for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Separately, many military retirees make financial planning decisions to participate in the U.S. Department of Defense's Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP). The SBP is an annuity available for purchase as income protection for surviving family members. Military retirees need not have a service-connected death or disability for their survivors to receive SBP.
Retirees participating in the SBP program pay a monthly premium based on the amount of coverage elected. Despite the retiree paying for the SBP through reduced retirement pay, under current law, survivors who receive DIC benefits have their SBP annuity payments reduced dollar-for-dollar by the DIC amount they receive. According to statistics from the Department of Defense, nationwide, more than 60,000 spouses have had a reduced or completely eliminated SBP annuity. It is time for this to be corrected in a fiscally-responsible manner.
Families who plan for their future by paying upfront for supplemental financial security should not be penalized if the loss of their loved one leaves them eligible for DIC benefits. Surviving spouses should receive their purchased insurance benefits. The servicemen and women who bought this insurance have worked to ensure that their loved ones are provided for after their death. These plans should be honored.
Over the past several years, many attempts have been made in Congress to legislatively correct this concern. In the past, I voted in favor of ensuring that families of military retirees receive the benefits they purchased by eliminating the unjust SBP and DIC offset for military families. Congress must do more in the future to right this wrong. Therefore, I support legislation, S. 734, that would eliminate this unfair offset. With 39 bipartisan Senate co-sponsors, S. 734 has considerable support.
Unfair provisions such as this must be addressed as part of the effort to ensure that veterans and their families receive the benefits they deserve. To help guide my consideration of VA reform efforts, I recently invited Idaho veterans to share both their positive and negative VA experiences through a brief survey that can be accessed through my website at https://www.crapo.senate.gov/contact/survey.cfm or by contacting my offices. September 30, 2014, is the deadline for submitting input through the survey. The input from this survey will assist me in determining what reforms will best accomplish the improvements needed for Idaho veterans.
As Congress works to improve veteran's access to quality care, it is also important to ensure that unfair discrepancies, such as this, are fixed. Congress, the DOD and the VA must continue to improve the benefits for our veterans in a fiscally responsible way.
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