Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Together, America can do better than an unfair tax on
military families
who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
Discharge Filed Today in House to Force Vote on
Ending the Military Families Tax (SBP-DIC)

(Washington, DC) - - U. S. Representative Chet Edwards today introduced a discharge petition to force a House floor vote on H.R. 808, a bill that would eliminate the Military Families Tax. Current law forces widows to lose their DOD survivor benefits if they receive Dependency and Indemnity Compensation from the VA because their spouse died of a service-connected injury. If the discharge petition receives the required 218 signatures from House members, a vote would occur on the floor of the House. H.R. 808, introduced by Rep. Henry Brown (R-SC) has 173 cosponsors, 73 of which are Republicans and 100 Democrats.
"Over 50,000 military survivors - mostly military widows - in this country are being denied benefits they deserve. For all active duty deaths, the surviving spouse is entitled to Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) - currently $993 a month paid by the VA.
The spouse may also be entitled to benefits from the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP), paid out by the Defense Department. But current law requires a dollar-for-dollar reduction to SBP for every dollar of DIC benefits they receive from the VA. For survivors of members below the E-6 grade or rank of staff sergeant, this offset wipes out most or all of the SBP entitlement, leaving survivors with only the $993 a month from the VA. For more senior members, the survivor receives some residual SBP - but loses almost $12,000 a year in benefits.
This is no way to honor our military families who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.
Republicans and Democrats have supported H.R. 808, introduced by Rep. Brown from South Carolina to correct this problem. The Senate included this fix in its Defense Authorization bill. I think the House needs to show such decisive action by bringing this legislation to the floor, and I have begun a discharge petition this morning to force the House to do so. I urge my colleagues to sign on. Congress took a step in the right direction by increasing death benefits and insurance for new survivors earlier this year, but this does not help those who have lost loved ones in the past.
We need to take this step now to correct this injustice."
318,000 survivors currently receive DIC benefits. As of 2002, the largest group of widows receiving DIC continues to be the World War II widows (109,481), followed closely by the Vietnam Era (101,021). Of these, approximately 52,000 survivors also receive SBP and are subject to the offset.
America can do better. Together, we can work to fix this problem.

Repeal the offset
· DIC is what its name implies - a special indemnity payable when military service results in a servicemember's premature death. SBP was originally retiree-purchased insurance, but is now available to those whose spouses died on active duty. The survivor should receive both when military service caused the death.
· Substituting DIC for SBP is inappropriate. Federal civilians have their own SBP program, and federal civilian SBP is not subject to offset by DIC if the civilian is a veteran and dies from a service-connected cause.
· Congress has taken a step in the right direction by increasing lump-sum death benefits for new survivors. But that does not help most current survivors. We must end the SBP-DIC offset.
Legislative Actions
· Rep. Henry Brown has introduced H.R. 808 (currently 173 cosponsors) to eliminate this offset.
· Democrats included these provisions in H.R. 2131, the New GI Bill of Rights for the 21st Century.
· Rep. Chet Edwards introduced a resolution that would allow creation of a discharge petition (H. Res. 271; May 11, 2005), and has begun collecting signatures for the discharge petition.
· This spring, Democrats in the House, led by Rep. John Salazar (D-CO), attempted to offer this as an amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill. However, Republicans unanimously votes to block him from offering this amendment.
· The Senate included language to eliminate this offset in its version of the Defense Authorization Act (Nelson Amendment). As this approaches conference, a discharge petition may focus attention on this issue and add pressure for the House to do the same.
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Military Families Tax Penalizes Survivors of those Killed in Combat. The Survivor Benefit Plan currently penalizes survivors, mostly widows of those killed as a result of combat. These widows lose their survivor benefits if they receive Dependency and Indemnity Compensation benefits because their spouse has died of a service-connected injury. Specifically, when a service member is killed on active duty, the spouse's SBP benefit is reduced dollar for dollar by the amount of the DIC benefit - a $993 deduction per month. This harms the 53,000 spouses who continue to pay this unfair tax, affecting families that have made the greatest sacrifice for our country.
Democrats are Fighting to End the Military Families Tax. This is an unfair and unjust provision that hurts the families of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom and our democracy. That is why Democrats have fought for a provision to end this tax in our Salute to Veterans and the Armed Forces in 2003 (H.R. 2569) and in our GI Bill of Rights for the 21st Century (H.R. 2131). This spring, Democrats in the House, led by Rep. Salazar, attempted to offer this as an amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill. However, Republicans unanimously votes to block him from offering this amendment.
Democrats Fight to Ensure that Republicans Accept these Provisions Passed Overwhelmingly by the Senate. On November 8, the Senate passed this amendment by Rep. Bill Nelson on the Defense Authorization Bill by a vote of 93 to 5. So today, Rep. Chet Edwards is leading a discharge petition (#3) to force Republican Leaders to bring up H.R. 808, a bipartisan bill sponsored Rep. Brown (R-SC), which has languished despite broad bipartisan support in the House. If a majority of House members sign the discharge petition, the matter must be brought to the floor for a vote in the House. Now is the time to force action on this issue, by launching a discharge petition, to make sure that this provision is not dropped in negotiations between the House and the Senate and becomes law. Together, America can do better than an unfair tax on military families that have made the ultimate sacrifice.