Tester bill restores fairness to survivor benefits for families of fallen troops

Senator pushes legislation to ensure benefits, stop penalizing families of servicemembers and veterans

(U.S. SENATE) – Senator Jon Tester today threw his support behind legislation to ensure that the surviving families of fallen service members and veterans get the benefits they deserve.

Two kinds of survivor benefits are currently available to families of fallen troops:

  • A Survivor Benefit Plan is a voluntary insurance policy purchased by a service member to pay a portion of his or her retirement pay to surviving family.
  • Dependency and Indemnity Compensation is a separate form of benefits paid to the surviving family of any service member killed in active duty or as a result of service.  Unlike a Survivor Benefit Plan, service members do not pay for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation benefits.

Under current law, if a family receives money from a Survivor Benefit Plan, that amount is deducted dollar-for-dollar from the family’s Dependency and Indemnity Compensation.  Tester says the law unfairly “picks the pockets” of families that are entitled to both benefits.

Tester’s bipartisan legislation would end the automatic deduction—which overwhelmingly affects veterans who die of service-connected disabilities—to ensure that surviving families can receive full benefits under both compensation plans.

“The reduction in benefits is a tough situation for a lot of Montanans—it is confusing and it makes our loss even harder to bear.” said Susan Thraen of Florence, Mont., whose husband Michael died while on active military duty in 2003.  “Our troops are paying for a benefit plan without knowing that their survivors are not going to receive the full value of the plan they paid for.  I appreciate Senator Tester’s leadership in working to bring fairness back to the survivor benefits program.”

“We need to be guaranteeing benefits for our troops and their families, not penalizing them with some backwards loophole in the law that unfairly picks their pockets,” said Tester, Montana’s only member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee.  “The families of fallen service members have enough challenges to face without having to deal with unexpected cuts to the benefits they were promised.  Those are the folks I’m fighting for with this legislation.”

Tester’s legislation is supported by the Military Coalition—an organization of nationally recognized uniformed services and veterans advocacy associations representing more than 5 million members.

Tester is the author of the Rural Veterans Health Care Improvement Act, which became law last year.  The legislation permanently raised the mileage reimbursement rate for disabled veterans, opened up grants to transport veterans to VA facilities, and is strengthening recruitment and retention of quality providers in rural communities.

A copy of Tester’s survivor benefits legislation is available on his website, HERE.