Should the Military Abolish the Widow's Tax?

Should the Military Abolish the Widow's Tax?

This past Monday, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, along with various veterans groups and advocates, backed legislation proposing to ban what is known as the "widow's tax."

The military 'widow's tax' has been the subject of much debate for over a decade. The controversy results from a tension between two military plans: The Department of Veterans' Dependency and Indemnity Compensation Plan and the Department of Defense's Survivor Benefit Plan. The former plan issues benefits to widows and widowers whose military spouses have died a service-related death. The latter is a supplemental insurance policy that service members may purchase to protect their spouses in case of death. Current law, however, holds that any payment under the Survivor Benefit Plan will be reduced dollar-for-dollar by the amount paid through the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation Plan. In many cases, this leaves a widow or widower without most if not all of the money to which she or she would otherwise be entitled.

The groups and advocates in support of banning the tax called on Congress this week to pass the Military Surviving Spouses Equity Act. If it is passed, the bill will protect surviving spouses who had purchased the supplemental policy from seeing the annuities cut, effectively burying the "widow's tax" altogether by repealing the provisions within the law that require the offset.

Surviving spouses have been quick to share their own experiences and hardships, arguing that the tax unfairly punishes service members who have had the foresight to plan ahead. Kathy Proust, who lost her husband in an F-18 crash, claims, "The military widow is the only category of survivor in the entire federal government that incurs the offset", deeming the whole concept nonsensical. Proust was likely referring to the benefit plan offered to Federal civilian employees – a plan similar to the spousal benefit plan but without the offset.

According to Dave Roberts, Supervisor to the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, the deduction could affect up to 60,000 widows and widowers. "It comes down to a fairness issue," Roberts argued. "When we penalize the spouses of our active troops, they remember it. This has an effect on our national morale of our troops."

Roberts specifically proposed that the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation funds be paid in addition to the survivors benefits, not be subtracted from them, maintaining, "This is one of those things that when you hear about it, you say `how could that ever happen,"' Roberts further defended those affected by asserting, "Here are people that purchased, purchased, the survivors benefit plan and then they get penalized and they get their veterans benefit reduced. It just does not make sense."

Similarly, in a letter addressing the issue, Roberts proposed, "The members of our Armed Forces and their families dedicate their lives to defend our country. When devastating casualties occur, we should make certain that those families are properly cared for."

This is not the first time Congress has attempted to pass a ban on the widow's tax; such opportunity has arisen before and advocates have argued to similar extents, yet to no avail. This has puzzled many, as there has consistently been widespread bipartisan support of prior bills. Whether or not the current attempt will be successful is still yet to be determined.

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