Surviving Spouse Reflects on Widows Tax Repeal Work Prior to Attending State of the Union

Surviving Spouse Reflects on Widows Tax Repeal Work Prior to Attending State of the Union
Photo by Cpl. Tessa D. Watts/Marine Corps

(Updated Feb. 5)


Kristen Fenty, who aided MOAA’s successful efforts to repeal the “widows tax” by meeting with lawmakers and sharing her family’s experience with CNN’s Jake Tapper, attended tonight’s State of the Union address alongside Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va.


“I am honored to accompany Rep. Luria as her guest,” Fenty said Tuesday, ahead of the address.


President Donald Trump's third State of the Union address covered a range of military-related topics, though he didn't specifically mention the FY 20 National Defense Authorization Act, which repealed the Survivor Benefit-Plan-Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (SBP-DIC) offset, commonly called the widows tax.


[RELATED: Watch Kristen Fenty on CNN’s The Lead With Jake Tapper]


The offset had been rejected at various points in the legislative process at least a dozen times. MOAA has been engaged with the offset since the inception of the SBP in 1972.


Fenty has been among those leading the charge, alongside several other MOAA members. It has been a driving issue for MOAA’s Surviving Spouse Advisory Committee and was a topic of focus for MOAA’s 2019 Storming the Hill campaign.


Fenty’s husband, Lt. Col. Joe Fenty, USA, was killed in action in Afghanistan on May 5, 2006. He had served for 20 years. He was survived by his wife and their daughter, Lauren.


The couple enjoyed hikes together, and Fenty still remembers the interesting people they met while touring the Liberation Route through Belgium and France.


“While I always felt safe and assured I could accomplish whatever we set out to do together, Joe wasn’t a caretaker and I didn’t need one,” Fenty said. “It takes an independent person to be married to someone in the military. Still, we had a plan. It was the Joe and Kristen plan, not the Lauren and Kristen plan, so the wind was knocked out of me when everything changed.”


‘This Year Seemed Different’

After his death, Kristen Fenty learned she would not receive her husband’s full benefits. The amount Fenty received from the DoD’s SBP was offset by the amount she received from the VA’s DIC.


“Surviving spouses of military dying as a result of service have been denied the full survivor benefit their military spouses earned and purchased for them,” Fenty said. “Restoring the benefit going forward corrects the injustice. It is not a handout.”


The offset was finally repealed when Trump signed the NDAA on Dec. 17. It feels surreal after years of hard work, Fenty said, noting it will be more meaningful when full benefits are restored.


[RELATED: SBP-DIC Offset Elimination: What We Know So Far]


“This year seemed different,” Fenty said. “There was an energy, and everything seemed to line up for final passage. However, we have been close before. I knew that once the legislation made it into the final version of the NDAA and passed the Senate, the president would sign. However, I will know it is real three years from now, when the process has been put in place and enacted to restore full benefits.”

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About the Author

Amanda Dolasinski
Amanda Dolasinski

Dolasinski is MOAA’s staff writer and covers issues important to veterans and their families, including health care, pay, and benefits. She can be reached at amandad@moaa.org. Follow her on Twitter: @AmandaMOAA