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Financial Relief for Surviving Spouses May Be Coming

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By Debbie Gregory.

Surviving spouses of military retirees are eligible to receive a portion of their service members retired pay upon the service member’s death if they are enrolled in DoD’s Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP).  Additionally, the survivors of disabled service members who die from service-connected causes are also eligible for the VA’s Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC).

For some 60,000 military widows and widowers who lost their spouses to service-connected illnesses or injuries, a House subcommittee is investigating how Congress might allow a further easing the “SBP-DIC offset” to provide them with an improved benefit packages. Under current law, recipients of both SBP and DIC are subject to a dollar for dollar offset.

Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.), chairman of the House armed services subcommittee on military personnel, and his colleagues have vowed to look at ways to either end or dull the offset’s effect on the surviving spouses’ financial health.

Partial offset relief through a Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance (SSIA) is set to expire in late 2017.  Unless Congress acts to end the offset, surviving spouses will once again feel the full brunt of the SBP-DIC offset.

Under the SBP offset law, which has existed for four decades, surviving spouses cannot receive both DIC and full SBP.  With basic DIC now set at $1254.19 a month, it usually will wipe out or vastly reduce any SBP annuity.

While the surviving spouses do get a refund of premiums their late spouses paid for the annuity coverage, the government adds no interest to the refunds, regardless of how long ago it received the premium payments.

Most members of Congress agree that surviving spouses should be allowed concurrent receipt of SBP and DIC, but still the offset remains.  Ending the offset would add $7 billion to U.S. annuity obligations over the first decade, the Congressional Budget Office estimates.

SSIA is set to end Oct. 1, 2017.

At MilitaryConnection.com, we have had the honor and privilege to meet and work with a number of outstanding widows who advocate and give voices to others in the same position. We are proud to call Vivianne Wersel (Gold Star Wives of America) and Bonnie Carroll (T.A.P.S) our friends.

We salute and proudly serve veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Military Connection: VA Expands Fry Scholarship: By Debbie Gregory

surviving spousesRecently, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced that it will be expanding the Fry Scholarship to include surviving spouses.

The Fry Scholarship was created to honor the memory of Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry of Lorena, Texas. With only one week left in his 2006 deployment in Iraq, Sgt. Fry volunteered to continue working an additional seven hours disarming explosive devices, despite having already sustained an injury to his hand. On March 8, 2006, Sgt. Fry made the ultimate sacrifice when an improvised explosive device detonated. Fry left behind a widow and three young children.

The Fry Scholarship provides eligible children and widowed spouses of fallen service members with up to 36 months of the full equivalent of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which includes 100% tuition at state schools, a monthly housing allowance, and a stipend for books and supplies.

Surviving spouses who are eligible for or are already receiving, benefits under the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) program may now be eligible for the Fry Scholarship. However, all surviving spouses eligible for DEA and the Fry Scholarship must make an irrevocable election for either program, beginning on or after January 1, 2015. In other words, when a surviving spouse elects to convert to the Fry Scholarship, he or she loses all remaining DEA benefits. If a spouse elects to use DEA instead of the Fry Scholarship, he or she forfeits all future entitlement to the Fry Scholarship.

The Fry Scholarship is the latest in a series of VA measures to put in place provisions of the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014, also known as the “Choice Act.” Section 701 of the Choice Act expands the Fry Scholarship to include the surviving spouses of American service members who died in the line of duty after September 10, 2001. Prior to the enacting of this year’s notable Veteran-friendly legislation, only the children of service members who died in the line of duty were eligible for the Fry Scholarship.

“We can never fully repay the debt we owe to these families who have lost a loved one,” VA Secretary Robert McDonald said. “It is a privilege to provide educational benefits that will make a positive difference in their lives.”

The VA will identify surviving spouses who are eligible for both programs, and send them a letter with comparative information on the benefits available and instructions on how make an election that best suits their needs. Information about these two programs is available on the VA’s GI Bill website. There is also a downloadable Factsheet available. The VA call center (888-GIBILL-1) also will be able to help individuals understand the differences between the two programs.

Military Connection: VA Expands Fry Scholarship: By Debbie Gregory