MOAA joined other veteran services organizations this week to continue the fight to repeal the “widows tax,” which deducts annuity benefits paid to surviving spouses as an offset to a VA benefit for survivors.
James Naughton, MOAA’s associate director for government relations, joined surviving spouses, four senators – Sens. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and Jim Risch (R-Idaho) – and representatives from other military and veteran advocacy groups on Capitol Hill on Tuesday morning for a press conference where they urged passage of the Military Surviving Spouses Equity Act of 2019, which would repeal the offset. The event is part of a congressional engagement effort led by Veterans of Foreign Wars; the topic was one of MOAA’s hallmark advocacy issues during its 2019 Storming the Hill event in April, when more than 150 MOAA members from across the country met with federal lawmakers.
On Wednesday, MOAA joined service organizations and spouses again to urge passage of a similar bill, but in the House: the Military Surviving Spouses Equity Act, which now has a whopping 312 co-sponsors and was introduced by Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.).
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“It’s long past time to end this unfair practice,” Naughton said after the conference. “MOAA supports repeal, a majority of House and Senate members support repeal, other veterans groups support repeal, and military survivors deserve repeal. And thanks to efforts from MOAA members and others who have made their voices heard, repeal is closer than ever.”
Surviving spouses receive the DoD’s Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP), which is an annuity paid to dependent’s after a retiree’s death. However, SBP is deducted from the VA’s Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC), which is a tax-free monetary benefit paid to survivors who died from a service-connected injury or disease. The deduction is known as the widows tax; a majority of the 67,000 survivors affected by the offset lose up to about $12,000 a year.
Cathy Milford, a MOAA member and surviving spouse whose husband served in the Coast Guard, said repealing the widows tax would honor her husband and all servicemembers who have died with service-connected injuries or illnesses.
“This issue has gone unresolved for way too long,” she said at the press event. “We’re seeing more momentum than we’ve ever seen before and that makes us feel filled with hope. This bill will honor our spouses who faithfully served our country and kept Americans safe.”
Senate legislation to repeal the offset, introduced by Jones, has garnered 67 cosponsors since its February introduction. The House legislation, H.R. 553 passed a critical milestone that allows Wilson to file a motion to place it onto a calendar for a floor vote, which could occur as soon as mid-July.
Risch called the widows tax “unfair” and “outrageous” to military families. He said he believes this will be the year when the offset is finally repealed.
“I think the difference this year, the engagement by the military family community is really what’s moved the needle more than anything else,” he said. “This is incredibly unfair. I just have a real feeling the momentum is changing dramatically.”
Tester, ranking member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, called on Senate Republicans to bring the legislation to the floor for a vote immediately.
“For as long as the men and women in uniform have served the nation, spouses have courageously stood beside them,” he said. “When our servicemembers pay the ultimate sacrifice, it’s our duty to make sure those loved ones are taken care of. That is not what is happening right now. This can’t replace a fraction of what they’ve lost, but it’s a small token from a grateful nation. Gold star families have endured unimaginable pain on behalf of the nation. (Passing this legislation) is simply the right thing to do.”
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), ranking member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, speaks during a press conference in support of the Military Surviving Spouses Equity Act of 2019. (Photo by Tony Lombardo/MOAA)
Rep. Wilson noted that Republicans and Democrats, in both the House and the Senate, are uniting to repeal the widows tax.
"We owe it to our servicemembers and their families to do all that we can to protect and honor them," Wilson said.
Other organizations supporting the Tuesday and Wednesday press conferences included the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans and the Military Order of the Purple Heart.