Widows ineligible for dual benefits

By Tom Philpott: CNJ columnist

By a 94-to-2 vote, the Senate for a fourth straight year has agreed to repeal a law that bans “concurrent receipt” for military surviving spouses.

The intent is to end reduced annuities under the military Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) when a surviving spouse opts to draw Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

DIC, which is tax free, only is available to a surviving spouse if their service member has died while on active duty or as a result of a service-connected injury or ailment.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., lead sponsor of an amendment to the defense authorization bill (S 3001) to repeal the SBP-DIC offset, argued that “widows and orphans” simply seek the same sort of relief from a ban on concurrent receipt of dual benefits that Congress has delivered in recent years to seriously disabled military retirees through a series of initiatives.

“We have acted to get rid of these unjust offsets. But there is one offset that still remains … the one that affects survivors,” Nelson said. It is unfair, he said, that DIC, earned because loved ones died of service-connected causes, is used to reduce SBP, an insurance annuity retirees bought to give surviving spouses or children financial protection.

“In my previous life as the elected insurance commissioner of the state of Florida,” Nelson said, “I want you to know I never heard of any other purchased insurance annuity program that (refuses) to pay the insured benefits that the insured purchased by saying, ‘Oh, by the way, (I see) you are getting a different benefit somewhere else.’ ”

His amendment, Nelson told colleagues, “is going to end that injustice and completely remove this offset to take care of the widows, widowers and orphans who have lost a loved one to combat or service connected injury.”

Since 2005, the Senate has voted annually to end the offset but always failed to fund the change. That’s true again this year.