Surviving spouse pens powerful message to eliminate 'Widows Tax'

Surviving spouse pens powerful message to eliminate 'Widows Tax'
Linda Port with her husband Force Master Chief Jon D. Port at his retirement ceremony in 2016. (Courtesy photo)

[Note from MOAA: The following is a commentary from a military spouse. Originally posted on Facebook, this article is resonating across the MOAA spouse community. You can read MOAA's position here.]

I rarely take any sort of public stand on anything. Please indulge me this once, and feel free to share, as most Americans are unaware.

An open letter to Congress,

My husband, Force Master Chief Jon D. Port, served 30 years in the Navy and retired in June 2016. I am very proud of his accomplishments and thankful for the opportunities that his service to our country provided for our family.

We made the choice early on for me to stay home and raise our four children to be the best citizens they could be. Our daughter is a Navy Wife married to an Active Duty Chief and all 3 of our sons have served in the Navy, with our two youngest sons and daughter-in-law all currently serving in the Navy Seabees.

Five months ago, after only 18 months of retirement, at 55 years old, my husband passed away unexpectedly due to a service-related condition. After five months, I am still working with the VA to get his disability rating and determination clarified. He will be laid to rest with full honors at Arlington on June 7.

I am learning as I go what it means to be a Military Widow. It is not something that Navy life prepared me for. My husband was not ill as we planned for his retirement, and we gave much thought to the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP).

Because I had stayed home with our children and did not go to college nor pursue a career, we opted for the SBP policy maximum of 55 percent. We knew it would cost a little more but he wanted to make sure I was taken care of.

Thankfully, the SBP annuity came through quickly, and it is my only income. I have also been assured by several Veterans Service Officers that I should also be entitled to Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC), and I recently received confirmation from the VA.

They told me, however, that even if I am entitled to the allowance of roughly $1,200 per month it will be subject to the SBP-DIC offset, what is often called the “Widows Tax.” This means they will reduce my taxable SBP annuity, which was a policy we paid for, by the non-taxable DIC amount, which Jon's service earned. As though the savings of the tax burden on $15,000 per year makes up for not actually receiving $15,000 per year! Those who did not chose to pay premiums for SBP receive DIC in full.

There are only about 64,000 surviving spouses who are affected by the Widows Tax. This relatively small number seems to make it much harder to get the attention of supporters on Capitol Hill for HR-846 and S-339, which both address and eliminate permanently the SBP-DIC Offset. Congress prefers to focus its efforts on Bills and Resolutions that will matter to more people.

I mattered to my husband. I shared him with this nation for 30 years. He did his best for every sailor as he led them. They all mattered to him, and he rose to not one, but two of the top 25 enlisted positions in the Navy.

As an Eagle Scout, he was Scoutmaster to several hundred scouts. They all mattered to him. He was a Fourth Degree Knight in The Knights of Columbus, and was halfway through an Educational Doctorate Degree for Institutional Leadership.

Before and after retirement he never stopped working for who, and what, mattered.

I never imagined myself in the position I am in now as a Military Widow, but at his side, I did things that mattered, too. I took no pay, but raised four good people and gave my time and talents to other Navy Wives, schools, churches, and communities across this country, because they mattered.

In 2007, I was honored for my efforts as a Navy Spouse in the Hampton Roads area as the Heroes at Home Spouse of the Year.

That same year, President George W. Bush honored my volunteer service as a Navy Spouse in a ceremony at the White House. Many lawmakers from Capitol Hill and top brass from the Pentagon attended that special day in May of 2007 to celebrate six spouses, one from each service branch plus the National Guard, and to tell the nation how much we mattered.

I was truly humbled.

I am really not different from other Military Widows. They were there too, volunteering at my side, not knowing their fate either, doing things that mattered. We paid it forward by doing things that might not benefit ourselves, knowing it would help others in the future.

I have a daughter who I pray is never in the position I am in, but if anything I do now can potentially make a future Military Widow's way smoother, I feel a duty to make the effort.

I know that changes like this can take time. Military Widows have been working toward eliminating the SBP-DIC offset for 20 years. Along with patience, Military Wives are well known for their tenacity. After my husband is laid to rest at Arlington I plan to help the effort to gain compassionate and understanding support to have a bill or resolution passed soon to end the Widows Tax permanently. Because this group, small as it may be in the eyes of Congress, matters.

SBP and DIC are two separate things. To offset one because of the other negates both the decision my husband and many others made to invest in SBP for a widow's security, as well as the legislative premise granting DIC to widows when a veteran dies due to a service related condition.

It is just wrong.

The funding had to have existed to establish both DIC and the SBP annuity. It must be restored and the offset eliminated. The longer Congress waits to correct this, the further away from understanding everyone seems to get.

Except the Military Widows. We understand $1,200 less income each month in our bank accounts.

Temporary and partial fixes are just not enough. The funding solution is roughly equivalent to the cost of one latte per American taxpayer, per year. Please support and openly discuss the bills and resolutions to end the SBP-DIC offset to ease the unjust burden on Military Widows.

People make glib quotes about the price of freedom. We Widows have more than paid our share by losing who mattered to us most. We need to stop being taxed for it.

Linda Port