In the midst of grief over losing their military spouses, many surviving widows and widowers shockingly learn that they won’t be receiving most or any of the government pension into which their spouses had paid.
If the service member paid into a U.S. Department of Defense annuity (the Survivor Benefit Pension or SBP) to provide for the spouse, but died of a service-related cause, the survivor becomes eligible for the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation from the Veterans Administration. They learn, usually belatedly, that for every dollar received from the indemnity, a dollar is subtracted or offset from the annuity.
These are monies for totally different purposes, with one funded by the veteran for insurance for the spouse; the other is a benefit related to the veteran’s sacrifice. No survivor of a federal employee loses dual benefits.
While a temporary supplemental payment is granted (the Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance or SSIA), it is for a fraction of the amount the service member contracted for and many families have lost up to 75% of their income.
As much as 65% of SBP/DIC Offset surviving spouses receive zero in SBP payments as a result of the offset, and many live below poverty levels.
I’m one of 63,000 military widows affected by this offset. My retired Army officer husband Jim and I moved here Christmas Day 2013. We met in Saigon, Vietnam just two months before the Communist Tet Offensive. He was with the famed joint special ops group MACVSOG; I was a DOD civilian.
After his military retirement, we founded a research/consulting firm and he paid into the annuity. Only seven months before his death in Oct. 2014, from years of complications due to Agent Orange and cancer, I learned I would be losing more than two-thirds of the annuity I had expected, along with over 60% of our income.
Wouldn’t it have been fairer if we had known about the offset in the beginning so that we could have invested that payment in private insurance that offered a payout guarantee?
No warning about this offset appeared in early contracts veterans signed. Later it appeared in very fine print, and still later became somewhat more apparent. If, as is rare, the offset is discovered while the veteran still is alive, his or her health condition has deteriorated so much due to his service-connected condition that additional insurance is impossible or prohibitive.
In addition, no interest on that invested money is paid to survivors and there is no adjustment of dollars paid over the years to today’s dollar.
A further irony is that if a widow remarries after turning 57, both benefits are restored. For most widows, that is not a viable option.
The offset affects spouses of both enlisted and officer rank. In 2007 the Veterans Disability Benefits Commission urged elimination of the offset for all widows, asserting that when military service causes the member’s death, the indemnity compensation from the VA should be paid in addition to SBP coverage, not subtracted from it.
Many groups have called for the repeal of the offset, including Gold Star Wives, the Society of Military Widows, the National Association of Uniformed Services (NAUS) and The Military Officers Association of America (MOAA). In multiple congresses, a majority of members have acknowledged the inequity and cosponsored corrective legislation to recognize SBP and DIC are paid for different reasons, but funding is never authorized.
While a senator, Obama promised Gold Star Wives that he would include this offset in his presidential budget. He has not. So how can this be a low-funding priority when these service members gave their lives for their country and their financial planning is betrayed?
Right now, bills repealing the offset are before Congress, H.R. 1594 and S. 979. If these bills do not reach the floor, there also are bills calling for the SSIA which expires next year to be extended, and groups supporting this advocate an indefinite or permanent extension with incremental increases.
Anyone can support this effort by contacting congressional legislators and urging the offset repeal. Search Facebook SBP/DIC Offset 2016 for more information.
At a time when our forces have been reduced and national security threats abound, it is critical not to erode the trust and morale of the military and to honor promises.
Anyone interested in starting a military surviving spouse group locally can contact Spear at Sierrarange1026@yahoo.com.