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story.lead_photo.caption Ret. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. John and Elly Gibbons

FORT SMITH -- Near Amsterdam, Netherlands, on July 4, 1972, an American neighbor introduced 20-year-old Elly Boelhouwer to a U.S. Air Force staff sergeant.

Photo by Charlie Kaijo
Elly Gibbons looks at a portrait of her late husband, retired Chief Master Sgt. John Gibbons, U.S. Air Force.
Photo by SOURCE: U.S. Department of Defense / Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
How the ‘Widow’s Tax’ works
Photo by Staton Breidenthal
After Elly Gibbons’ husband, retired Air Force Chief Master Sgt. John Gibbons, died because of a service-related illness, she learned that a Defense Department annuity he had paid into would be reduced by the amount of the Veterans Affairs death benefit, cutting into her expected income.

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Print Headline: Widows say military-benefits 'offset' law adds insult to injury


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Archived Comments

  • angelaharenzagmailcom
    April 1, 2018 at 9:03 a.m.

    My husband died of a 100% Service Connected Disability almost 24 years ago. Our daughter was 12 years old. He'd bought into the Survivor's Benefit Plan (SBP) thinking he had provided for us in a way that would make a difference forever. In less than a month while grieving and grappling with such overwhelming loss I learned that was not the case. I learned the VA Compensation would offset the SBP dollar for dollar. This month alone that was in the amount of $1600... it should be easy to calculate that kind of monthly deduction over more than two decades. There were so many times over all those years that money would have made all the difference. I think what hurts the most is knowing my husband so loved this country. The only time I'd ever heard him cry was the day the Military Medical Board told him they were ruling to medically retire him. In this time of bailouts for banks and pallets of money delivered to the tarmac of foreign countries it is hard to be told sorry we can't afford to help the widow(er)s by stopping the offset. I guess it was a blessing he left this world not knowing the government would not be paying the full benefit of the plan they sold him. I guess.

  • susangeer1959hotmailcom
    April 1, 2018 at 10:09 a.m.

    Military retirees purchase an insurance annuity called Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) to provide a small amount of income security to their surviving spouse. When retiring it is sold as the ONLY way to GUARANTEE that a portion of the retired pay will be paid monthly to their surviving spouse. Buy it...they said. It is guaranteed...they said. Yet, it is LEGALLY PROHIBITED from paying out if death is service connected. So, we have military surviving spouses being financially penalized when the retiree dies in service to their country. What country would allow such an atrocity?

    Members of Congress are our policy makers, and they are the ones that let this continue while THEY collect from multiple federal banks of benefits. They oppose military surviving spouses receiving a purchased annuity and vote NO, but have voted yes on legislation that allows them to receive concurrent receipt of their own.

    Many of them have served, and many of them are retired and collecting their deferred compensation (retirement). If they have been rated with a service connected disability, add disability compensation from VA to that list of federal monies received. Should that have occurred in combat, they will receive yet another benefit called Combat Related Special Compensation (CRSC). Former POWs will also receive special veterans benefits. They collect these while earning close to $175,000 a year as a member of Congress.
    After serving in Congress for 5 years, which is only one term for a Senator, they will collect another federal retirement at the age of 62. Let's not forget that since they are now a federal civilian employee, if they elect to participate in SBP, and if their death is service connected, THEIR surviving spouse will receive BOTH. There is no offset for them.

    The disabled military retiree outside Congress, that elects to purchase SBP for their surviving spouse, forfeits their retirement if they die service connected. Retirement is earned the same way for all service members...through 20+ years of honorable service. The difference between those military retirees now serving in Congress and those military retirees unable to work because of their service connected disabilities, is..... members of Congress are the policy makers...and they make policies that benefit themselves.

  • ZeebronZ
    April 1, 2018 at 10:39 a.m.

    This is so sad and unfair. Please repeal it ASAP!

  • lgphiferaolcom
    April 1, 2018 at 10:56 a.m.

    Another glaring example of a very poor Congressional attitude regarding their constituents! Those voting 'No' on this issue are truly heartless.

  • taronakittyyahoocom
    April 1, 2018 at 11:03 a.m.

    I’m in this article....I want to thank Lisa Hammersly and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for this article.
    We widows and widowers need our story out there for others to see our unfair treatment by DoD. This is NOT a handout but an insurance policy that our late spouses were offered. My husband paid monthly premiums for over 15 years. We were never told of this offset!
    When my husband’s health declined, I had to stop working and stay home to care for him. He was wheelchair bound and in pain 24/7! For over the last 10 years of my husband’s life I was his caregiver....I didn’t have my own income or resources to build on my own retirement.
    Over 20 years of my husband’s active duty I was married to him and I followed him wherever he was assigned except for his TDY’s or remote duty. I was very proud and honored to be a Military Wife.
    When my husband took out SBP at retirement he was thinking of me and my future if he passed away before me.
    The biggest thing that upsets me is if we widows and widowers who remarry at the age of 57 or older can then receive full SBP without the offset. How is that fair....I can see losing benefits if we remarry but gaining a benefit????? Isn’t that kinda like marrying someone so they can illegally receive a “green card”? We receive money for marrying someone????

    Again, thank you Lisa and the Democrat-Gazette for telling our story.

  • trickyone01
    April 1, 2018 at 11:13 a.m.

    Never trust the government with your money.

  • Skeptic1
    April 1, 2018 at 11:20 a.m.

    Anyone in DC that votes against the repeal needs to be ousted from office and publicly scorned.

  • leb4feraolcom
    April 1, 2018 at 12:10 p.m.

    Congress and the DoD have acknowledged that the SBP-DIC Offset is unfair and had begun to take steps in 2008 to eliminate it by approving a payment of $50 a month to survivors of those killed in action or death that was service-connected. The gradual yearly increase of this SSIA (Special Survivors Indemnity Allowance) was stopped this year and made permanent at $310 to be paid monthly with no additional yearly increases to match the losses incurred by the survivor.This does not come close to what would have been received by the survivors who spouses paid for full SBP insurance benefits.

    Starting in February, Congress began charging these same survivors an increase in their medical co-pays (to pay for the SSIA). This essentially amounts to robbing Peter to pay Peter. The $310 monthly 'award' can easily be eliminated/offset by the new co-pays paid by the survivor. Another problem is that many in Congress have been told the Offset has now been eliminated. It HAS NOT! The new medical co-pays will generate billions of dollars over the course of of its yearly-increasing mandate, a fact CIGNA Health realized, as they just bought the company that administers the military co-pays (just weeks after the new co-pay law was enacted).

    The only recourse now, according to the DoD/Congress, is for survivors to get REMARRIED..they will receive both their full DIC and full SBP benefits if they remarry after the age of 57!!

    Does any of this make sense? We are talking about young widows with young children whose spouses gave their life in battle...we are talking about older widows whose spouses died or are dying in record numbers due to the effects of Agent Orange or other service-connected disabilities . We are talking about all widows who were highly regarded as 'vital' to military readiness, and who made many sacrifices to 'grease the skids' so the military member could fight and protect this country. If new or potential military spouses knew they would be kicked to the curb like this, do you think they would encourage their spouses to stay or join the military?

  • torino72
    April 1, 2018 at 12:34 p.m.

    As part of this "problem", effective February 1, 2018 the US Congress has authorized an increase in co-pays of $7 to $13 per prescription to be paid by retired veterans and their spouses to cover the cost of this "off set" on surviving spouses of veterans. I do not think that is right either and have written my US senators and congressman about this. My wife and my last refills (8 generic drugs) received in February cost an additional $56 because of this law shifting money from one group of retired veterans to cover the cost of another veteran related issue.

    With the bloated defense budget just passed, there should be money available for the GOP US congress to not make life more miserable for veterans. Maybe this is an additional issue your reporters should look into by questioning our Arkansas congressional delegation on why they voted for this.

  • MaxCady
    April 1, 2018 at 1:32 p.m.

    Disgraceful the way the government treats its vets and survivors. You'll never see a member of Congress taking a cut in any of their benefits.