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Adding Insult To Injury, Surviving Military Spouses Can't Get Retirement Benefits Unless They Remarry After 57

Posted by on May. 3, 2012 at 3:18 AM
  • 25 Replies


Bob Geiger has an upsetting piece at Huffington Post about something called the "Widow's Tax," a government practice that financially penalizes surviving spouses of soldiers killed in battle.

Kristen Fenty knows a thing or two about pain and struggle.

Like all Gold Star Wives -- women whose spouses have died or been killed while on active duty in the U.S. military -- she has learned to live with the grief of losing her life partner, the disintegration of the life she imagined and, like so many war widows, the burden of instantly becoming a single parent and shepherding a child through the loss of her father.

What Kristen Fenty didn't expect was six years of getting raked over bureaucratic coals in simply trying to receive and keep the benefits to which surviving military families are entitled.

Fenty, whose husband Army Lt. Col. Joseph Fenty Jr. was killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan in 2006, is fighting just such a battle and has become an activist on behalf of other surviving military spouses grappling with a system that seems geared toward nickel and diming widows who have already sacrificed so much.

"It was a very difficult time," Fenty said of the time immediately after Joe was killed. "And I had just had a baby 28 days before my husband's death."

At issue is a byzantine parsing of government programs that essentially eliminates one survivor's benefit for another, despite the distinct purpose of each and their origin in entirely separate entities. Specifically, Fenty and Gold Star Wives are fighting a government practice that offsets payments from the Defense Department's Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) -- a survivor benefit collected through death in service or purchased through post-retirement premium payments -- with the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) death benefit, paid by the Department of Veterans Affairs to spouses who have lost a husband or wife at war.

What Fenty and so many others have discovered is that, according to the U.S. government, receiving payments from both programs constitutes a kind of double-dipping and that a dollar-for-dollar offset must take place to prevent that.

To civilians, this is analogous to someone telling us after losing our spouse that we can have his or her retirement money or their life insurance -- but not both. Of course, this would be considered an outrage and an earned-benefits rip-off, but for military families, this evidently makes complete sense to the government.

It really is a crazy system, and it's even more infuriating when you see posturing politicians slashing programs for the poor to protect the military budget. I guess they just mean the part that goes to wastefully expensive military toys (and returned to them via campaign contributions), and not the very real human needs of the people who serve in the military. The part that really makes me angry? Congress says they "don't have the money" to fix this. That's baloney. Always money for war, always money for banks—but never enough money for those inconvenient people who get caught in the wheels.

Here's the craziness of this system:

  • The annuity payment (for which you and your spouse paid premiums) is reduced by the amount of the monthly survivor benefit.
  • To qualify for the retirement program, the surviving spouse can only remarry if they are 57 or older. Widows who never remarry don't see a dime.
  • Just to make it even more complicated, the government decided if you're not going to get the annuity, they're at least going to give you your premiums back. But if you then get remarried after you're 57, and now you're eligible for the benefit, you have to repay those premiums. Oy.

Supporting our troops—and their families? Doesn't sound like it.

by on May. 3, 2012 at 3:18 AM
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Replies (1-10):
kailu1835
by Ruby Member on May. 3, 2012 at 3:26 AM
1 mom liked this

 The government is always trying to profit off of us.  Death tax is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard of.  Every penny made during life was taxed on, so it's a double tax.  Same thing with this military thing... seems like a triple tax... taxed during lifetime, taxed at death, and taxed because of dying in the line of duty?  And then keep the money that the family is entitled to??

Veni.Vidi.Vici.
by on May. 3, 2012 at 8:46 AM

wow

ThatTXMom
by Platinum Member on May. 3, 2012 at 8:53 AM

 To qualify for the retirement program, the surviving spouse can only remarry if they are 57 or older. Widows who never remarry don't see a dime.

 

Confusing much? The first sentence says they can't remarry until they are 57, the 2nd says they must remarry to get the money.  What happens between, let's say... 25 and 57?  The government waits to see if you get remarried?  Yikes!

yourspecialkid
by Platinum Member on May. 3, 2012 at 9:00 AM
1 mom liked this

 Thank you for posting this.

Unfortunately this is not new and is just part of a multi-layer problem.  I have seen a wife and small children turned out of base housing just 2 weeks after the actual death of the husband..I can't even imagine such a thing.  I think I would still be too grief stricken to give such a major decision the right amount of thought.

I have heard of wives fighting for months just to get the benefits they are entitled to started.

I am a very strong person, but when my husband deployed the first time I tapped my FIL to be there to help me make the big decisions if my dh was killed. 

I would like to see a FLOTUS really take up the military family as a cause..you know do more than scratch the surface...use her influence to bring some issues into the light and thus bring about some changes.

punky3175
by on May. 3, 2012 at 9:10 AM

This is awful.  These poor families.

This is also how military retirement works.  If you get a VA Disability rating, they subtract that from your retirement pay and you get the VA money tax free and the remainder of your retirment income.  It is a system that really needs to be reworked.

jehosoba84
by Jenn on May. 3, 2012 at 9:43 AM

 Ugh. The military blows(not the members themselves). Congress blows. What's new? It all makes me sick.

My good friend's dh was in the service and she was living off-base nearby. Many many months would go by without him even being paid becasue of glitches in their system that they took their sweet ass time about fixing. In the mean-time, she had to deal with her water/electricity being shut off and their credit being trashed because of it.

futureshock
by Ruby Member on May. 3, 2012 at 9:51 AM

sick

rotPferd
by Silver Member on May. 3, 2012 at 10:06 AM
1 mom liked this

 Survivor benefits are 450,000 last I heard and if a surviving spouse can't build up a lil nest egg with that, that's on them. I don't think they should be entitled to both and I don't think your average Joe on the street would agree either.

rotPferd
by Silver Member on May. 3, 2012 at 10:08 AM

 

Quoting jehosoba84:

 Ugh. The military blows(not the members themselves). Congress blows. What's new? It all makes me sick.

My good friend's dh was in the service and she was living off-base nearby. Many many months would go by without him even being paid becasue of glitches in their system that they took their sweet ass time about fixing. In the mean-time, she had to deal with her water/electricity being shut off and their credit being trashed because of it.

 She could have gone to finance and had them send a letter to her utilities and credit companies and they would have to comply.

stormcris
by Christy on May. 3, 2012 at 10:17 AM

Alright um yea....the railroad has a similar policy. If you collect railroad retirement for yourself you cannot collect social security as a surviving spouse unless the retirement is offset. 

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