The San Diego County Board of Supervisors got behind proposed legislation on Tuesday that would end the "widow's tax" on military benefits.
Under the Department of Defense-administered Survivor Benefit Plan, active duty servicemembers or retirees can elect to give 55 percent of their retirement pay to a survivor. That happens automatically for the spouses of servicemembers who die on duty.
Current law, however, requires a dollar-for-dollar deduction in benefits offered through the Department of Veterans Affairs-administered Dependency and Indemnity Compensation plan, which a widow or widower is entitled to if his or her spouse's death was service-related.
According to Supervisors Dave Roberts and Bill Horn, the deduction could wipe out most or all survivor benefits and affects about 60,000 widows and widowers. The Military Surviving Spouses Equity Act, or H.R. 32, would in part repeal the provisions within the law requiring the offset.
"It comes down to a fairness issue," Roberts said. "When we penalize the spouses of our active troops, they remember it. This has an effect on our national morale of our troops."
Kathy Prout, whose husband was killed in a F-18 crash, said that about 35,000 of the surviving spouses receive no survivor benefits funds because of the deduction.
"The military widow is the only category of survivor in the entire federal government that incurs this offset," Prout said. "It makes absolutely no sense."
The supervisors said the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation funds should be paid in addition to the survivors benefits, not be subtracted from them.
"This is one of those things that when you hear about it, you say 'how could that ever happen,"' Roberts said. "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."
Federal civilian employees have a similar benefit plan, but without the offset, Roberts and Horn said.
"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," Roberts and Horn wrote in a letter to their colleagues.
—City News Service