Lawmakers are taking aim at the controversial 'widow's tax' on Gold Star family benefits

news
President Trump recognizes Gold Star families on Memorial Day, 2018. Photo: Sgt. Amber Smith/U.S. Army

Editor's Note: This article by Patricia Kime originally appeared onMilitary.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

With momentum growing in Congress to repeal a new tax hike on the families of some deceased service members, military advocates hope this will be the year another surviving military spouse pay issue — the so-called "widow's tax" — ends.


Spouses of service members who die on active duty or whose military member died of a service-connected illness or injury in retirement often receive monthly payments from both the Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

By law, the payments — Survivor Benefit Plan annuities from the DoD and Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, or DIC, from the VA — are reduced for those who receive both, with SBP payments reduced dollar for dollar by the amount received from the VA. The reduction is known as the SBP-DIC offset.

Spouses and military family advocates say SBP, which is elective coverage paid by the service member, is similar to an insurance annuity and should be paid out regardless of additional income. They say the offset should be abolished, as it is unfair to widows or widowers whose spouses received military pay or retirement and disability compensation.

When a service member dies on active duty or in retirement with a disability rating of 100%, or from a service-connected injury or illness, the surviving spouse receives DIC, currently $1,319.04 each month, with additional payments for any children.

If their military member purchased SBP, they may also receive SBP payments equaling 55% of their service member's retirement pay.

More than 66,000 surviving spouses are affected by the offset and, while many receive another payment — a Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance of $318 per month to offset the offset — it doesn't equal the estimated $12,000 lost yearly by those affected.

"What other insurance policy sold in the United States is permitted to withhold a death payment to a legal beneficiary?" wrote retired Navy Rear Adm. Tom Jurkowsky, a board member of the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), in The Hill in April. "Would this be allowed to happen if a company selling life insurance withheld death payments from beneficiaries? The courts would certainly intervene, as would Congress."

Joining MOAA on Capitol Hill to press for the offset's repeal are Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, the National Military Family Association and other military support organizations.

Two bills currently under consideration on the measure have widespread support: H.R. 553, the Military Surviving Spouses Equity bill, sponsored by Rep. Joe Wilson, R-South Carolina, has 280 co-sponsors, while S. 622, the Military Widow's Tax Elimination Act, introduced by Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, has 63 supporters in the Senate.

While such widespread support is not unprecedented — Wilson's bill had 271 co-sponsors in the previous Congress — the measure has previously failed largely due to cost. The Congressional Budget Office estimates it would add $7 billion in mandatory spending in its first 10 years.

Joyce Raezer, executive director of the National Military Family Association, said Thursday that the military groups have been working with members of Congress to find a source to fund the cost and said that "one may be identified."

She declined to give specifics, saying the proposal is still in the works. But she is optimistic, she said, given the attention being paid to military widows and widowers who experienced large tax increases on their children's Survivor Benefit Plan payments this year.

"The planets are finally aligning. Everyone is up [on the Hill] to bring the story of the younger generation of surviving spouses and what this offset has done to them," Raezer said. "It's just time to do this. It's the right thing to do."

This article originally appeared on Military.com

More articles from Military.com:

SEE ALSO: Gold Star Spouses Can Lose Financial Assistance If They Remarry, But Veterans In Congress Hope To Change That

The Army is working on developing an alternate fitness test for soldiers with permanent injuries that prevent them from completing the new Army Combat Fitness Test.

Read More Show Less

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum only came out on May 17, but the titular hitman is already gearing up to lay siege to theaters in 2021.

On Monday, Lionsgate announced to fans in a cryptic text message that, "You have served. You will be of service. John Wick: Chapter 4 is coming May 21, 2021," according to Polygon.

Read More Show Less

In a scathing letter, a top Navy legal official on Sunday expressed "grave ethical concerns" over revelations that government prosecutors used tracking software in emails to defense lawyers in ongoing cases involving two Navy SEALs in San Diego.

The letter, written by David G. Wilson, Chief of Staff of the Navy's Defense Service Offices, requested a response by Tuesday from the Chief of the Navy's regional law offices detailing exactly what type of software was used and what it could do, who authorized it, and what controls were put in place to limit its spread on government networks.

"As our clients learn about these extraordinary events in the media, we are left unarmed with any facts to answer their understandable concerns about our ability to secure the information they must trust us to maintain. This situation has become untenable," Wilson wrote in the letter, which was obtained by Task & Purpose on Monday.

Read More Show Less
Riley Howell

Riley Howell, the Army ROTC cadet shot and killed while restraining an active shooter at UNC Charlotte on April 30, was posthumously awarded the ROTC Medal of Heroism earlier this month for his heroic sacrifice, the Army announced.

Read More Show Less
(U.S. Air National Guard/Master Sgt. Matt Hecht)

Editor's Note: This article by Hope Hodge Seck originally appeared onMilitary.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

The head of naval aviation has directed the creation of a new process for approving and reviewing pilots' call signs after two African-American aviators at an F/A-18 Hornet training squadron in Virginia filed complaints alleging racial bias in the unit, from which they said they were unfairly dismissed.

In a formal endorsement letter signed May 13, Vice Adm. DeWolfe Miller, commander of Naval Air Forces, said he found the two aviators, a Navy lieutenant and a Marine Corps captain, were correctly removed from Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 106 out of Naval Air Station Oceana due to "substandard performance," despite errors and inconsistencies discovered in the grading and ranking process.

However, Miller said he did find inappropriate conduct by instructor pilots who did not treat the pilots-in-training "with appropriate dignity and respect," using discriminatory call signs and having inappropriate and unprofessional discussions about them on social media.

Read More Show Less