Bipartisan, bicameral legislation designed to ease the burdens faced by new surviving spouses of military retirees was reintroduced and rebranded this month, giving members of the 118th Congress a chance to protect grief-stricken family members from unwelcome financial surprises.
The Respect for Grieving Military Families Act (S. 1588 | H.R. 3232) was introduced May 11 by Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) along with Reps. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) and Mark Amodei (R-Nev.). The bill, known as the Military Retiree Survivor Comfort Act in the last session of Congress, was re-titled to communicate the intent and impact of the legislation.
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Under DoD’s current policy, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) recoups the final month of retirement benefits upon the passing of any retired servicemember. This can put surviving family members in a stressful financial position; many survivors are unaware DFAS can recoup benefits – by pulling funds out of a joint checking account, for example – without their consent.
The Respect for Grieving Military Families Act prevents DFAS from immediately recouping any overpayment of benefits and instead gives survivors the opportunity to repay the benefits over a 12-month period. It would also allow the secretary of defense to forgive the repayment.
“The last thing military families who are grieving should have to worry about is getting hit with a surprise bill because the Department of Defense bureaucracy miscalculated pay at the end of a retiree’s life,” Cornyn said. “This legislation would safeguard veterans’ families from this unfair practice and allow them to rectify any overpaid retirement funds at a more appropriate time.”
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“Military families suffering the loss of their loved one should not be penalized for an accounting oversight,” Garamendi said. “The Department of Defense’s current practice of clawing back retirement benefits deposited in joint checking accounts when a veteran dies is both callous and needless. Our Respect for Grieving Military Families Act would finally fix this to ensure that our military families have one less worry following the loss of their loved one.”
Grief-stricken survivors may forget to notify DFAS when a retiree passes, resulting in a large fund recoupment that could potentially empty a bank account and result in overdraft fees. The gradual repayment option provided by the Respect for Grieving Military Families Act is the right thing to do for our surviving spouses.
Add your voice to this effort by contacting your lawmakers today.
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