May 27, 2019

Weekly Column: Memorial Day--Military Widow's Tax Elimination

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

One of the ways we can honor fallen heroes beyond Memorial Day is by making certain that the benefits they more than paid for to ensure the wellbeing of their families after their death are fulfilled.  I co-led the introduction of the Military Widow’s Tax Elimination Act that will correct an unfair application of federal regulations that strips surviving family members of annuities they already purchased.  A bipartisan majority of 58 senators have co-sponsored this legislation.  It is past time to do what is right for military families and enact this common sense fix.    

Military spouses serve, in a way, along with the servicemembers they support.  When their spouse is deployed, they carry on getting children to school, appointments and activities without their spouse close by to help.  They manage daily life while shouldering the stress of the threats their loved ones face while deployed.  They move their lives to where their spouses are stationed, which may be far away from family and friends.  This is not easy.  Military families are an integral part of the defense community and their needs increase when a servicemember passes away. 

I have heard from Idaho military families who planned for their futures by purchasing supplemental insurance plans, but have faced bureaucratic barriers to fully accessing the benefits they purchased.  The families of veterans and service personnel who die as a result of their military 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. 

However, 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 data provided by the Military Officers Association of America, more than 65,000 military families nationwide are affected by what is known as the SBP-DIC offset.  We must fix this in a fiscally-responsible manner.

In February, Senators Doug Jones (D-Alabama), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Jon Tester (D-Montana) and I introduced S. 622, the Military Widow's Tax Elimination Act of 2019.  This legislation, which is also co-sponsored by fellow Idaho Senator Jim Risch, would repeal the SBP-DIC offset and prohibit the U.S. Department of Defense from recouping past payments to SBP recipients.   

I have been a longtime proponent of this legislation because 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 must be honored.  I also co-sponsored and voted in favor of legislative attempts to eliminate the unjust SBP-DIC offset in previous years.  

Thank you to veterans and military families for your service to our nation.  Thank you to all those who gather to honor this service and our fallen heroes at Memorial Day events throughout Idaho.  I will continue to work to ensure that the service of military families is respected and eliminate obstacles restricting military families from rightfully receiving the benefits they purchased.  Denying veterans the benefits they have more than paid for must end.

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