August 6, 2014
By Col. Mike Hayden, USAF (Ret)
Recently, I helped a
survivor, who had lost her retired military spouse, navigate the somewhat
confusing benefits in DoD and the VA.
Her husband had elected
the Survivor Benefit Program (SBP), which provides the survivor up to 55
percent of the servicemember’s military retired pay, yet she also was entitled
to Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) provided by the VA because her
husband’s death was determined to have been the result of his military service.
DIC provides a modest
$1,233 a month ($14,796 a year), however, under current law, survivors who are
eligible for both SBP and DIC must forfeit a dollar of their SBP annuity for
every dollar of DIC received from the VA. Often, the offset completely
eliminates the SBP annuity the military retiree paid for, as was the case for
this survivor. This offset came as quite a financial shock.
and members of Congress already have called for an end to the offset. The October
2007 report of the Veterans’ Disability Benefits Commission recommended
eliminating the offset for all SBP/DIC survivors, asserting that when military
service causes a servicemember’s death, the indemnity compensation from the VA
should be paid in addition to
SBP coverage, not subtracted from it.
Many members of Congress
have acknowledged the inequity and cosponsored corrective legislation (H.R. 32
and S. 734) to
recognize SBP and DIC are paid for different reasons — a premise MOAA
whole-heartedly supports. SBP is a servicemember-purchased annuity
(insurance plan), whereas DIC is an indemnity payment to a surviving spouse when
military service causes a servicemember’s death.
In 2008, Congress clearly
acknowledged this inequity by authorizing for SBP/DIC survivors a modest
Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance (SSIA) to begin phasing out the
offset. In June 2009, Congress took a second step, increasing SSIA monthly
payments to $150 beginning in FY 2014 and rising to $310 in FY 2017. Unfortunately,
barring an additional law change, SSIA authority will expire Oct. 1, 2017, and
the payments will stop.
When SSIA was
implemented, the accompanying House Armed Services Committee press release
legislation (SSIA) is the latest step in our continuing effort to eliminate the
so-called ‘widow’s tax,’ which has long denied surviving family members the
full payment of their Survivor Benefit Plan benefits… this bill does not
completely end the offset … the House Committee …will continue to explore every
opportunity to pursue legislation that brings us closer to eliminating the
No other federal
surviving spouses are required to forfeit their federal annuity because
military service caused their sponsor’s death.
The bottom line: Difficult
budgetary times, such as those we are experiencing today, have led to inaction on
ending this unfair offset. Fair
treatment for survivors of servicemembers who gave their lives for their
country must not be a low funding priority. Congress must, at the
very least, take steps to extend and improve SSIA with full repeal of the
offset remaining the goal.
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