Jul 05 2013
It has been said a great nation will be judged by how it treats its veterans.
As a military spouse, I would add a great nation will be judged by how it treats the families who survive the loss of a servicemember while on active duty, or even after.
This isn’t about yellow ribbons and platitudes. It’s about the financial realities survivors face when a loved one dies as a result of military service.
There are two benefits designed to provide financial compensation to eligible survivors: The Survivor Benefits Plan (SBP) and Dependency Indemnity Compensation (DIC).
The Survivor Benefits Plan (SBP)
Upon retirement, a servicemember can choose to enroll in the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP), an annuity designed to provide an eligible survivor with up to 55% of the service member’s retiree pay. SBP is not free and a premium is deducted each month from a servicemember’s retiree pay.
This benefit is elected and paid for by the servicemember to secure a portion of retirement pay for a surviving spouse. Automatic coverage is extended to survivors of servicemembers who die on active duty.
Dependency Indemnity Compensation (DIC)
DIC is paid by the Veteran’s Administration (VA) to the surviving spouse or child of an active duty or retired servicemember who dies from a service-caused condition. It provides a modest monthly annuity.
It is paid as compensation by the VA when military service cause a servicemembers death.
But there is a big problem for our survivors
Under current law, survivors that are eligible to receive both benefits (the SBP annuity they paid for with their premiums and government compensation for a service member’s service-connected death) quickly learn they cannot collect both benefits. One benefit (DIC) offsets the other (SBP) – dollar for dollar– leaving many of our survivors stunned, angry, and financially strapped, potentially for a lifetime. (In this case, offset means that one benefit is reduced dollar for dollar for every dollar received in the other benefit.) The total cannot exceed a set amount.
Shock and Anger Across Generations
The reality of the offset is shocking and it is felt across generations of military.
“Just last year, my husband Major (USA) Paul C. Voelke was killed in Afghanistan,” Traci Maultasch Voelke shared with us. “Shortly after his death I was presented with the complicated survivor benefit structure. I was handed a spreadsheet showed the benefits my husband earned through the SBP based on his 14 years of service, and then told I wouldn’t be getting those benefits, they would be reduced dollar for the dollar by the Veteran’s Affairs benefits. Through my network, I learned those most military spouses today are unaware of the survivor benefits and how their families are affected.”
Martha Douthit was raising two teenagers when her husband, an Army officer was killed during the first Gulf War in 1991. “My husband never would have believed his being killed in wartime would cause the military to cut my SBP by over $1200 a month. That happens because the DIC offsets the SBP.”
Tom Synder served in the U.S. Army for 20 years, and took out SBP for his wife, Janet, in 1978 when he retired. During his retirement he became ill due to Agent Orange in Vietnam (1969 – 1970). According to Janet, SBP premiums were subtracted from his military retirement pay for 30 years, “to give me a life insurance annuity guaranteed by the U.S. government. It was a shock to learn that there was an “offset” in benefits.” Jane is left to wonder, “What kind insurance annuity would deny full benefits of the plan, just because the survivor was receiving benefits from another insurance contract?”
The SBP-DIC Offset is Wrong
No other federal surviving spouse is required to forfeit his or her federal annuity because military service caused their sponsor’s death.
Yet, our government makes the very people that have sacrificed the most pay, yet again! The current offset is wrong and should be eliminated for all SBP-DIC Survivors.
Now is the Time for Action
“There but by the grace of God go I.”
We must stand alongside those that have already sacrificed so much and fight to have this offset repealed. Will you join me?
Not in the Capitol region?
Currently, there are two bills in Congress that would repeal the offset of DIC payments from SBP annuities, in the belief that when service caused the death, the VA indemnity payment should be added to the normal SBP annuity, not subtracted from it.
Add your voice to ours and send a message to your Representative and your Senators. Ask them to support the bills that would repeal the offset of DIC payments from SBP annuities. The best part is you can personalize it! And, be sure to share it with your friends. Every voice counts.
Karen serves as a Deputy Director, Government Relations (Military Family Issues)