What is the ‘Widow’s Tax’? How Surviving Military Families are Denied Full Benefits.

We’ve all heard that freedom isn’t free. But for over 65,000 military families, neither is death. Kristen Fenty, the wife of my husband’s first battalion commander, LTC Joseph Fenty, has been tirelessly advocating for years on behalf of other military spouses who are being denied their full survivor benefits because of the so-called ‘widow’s tax’.

LTC Joseph Fenty was killed in Afghanistan just 21 days short of being retirement eligible – he served nearly 20 years before giving the ultimate sacrifice for his country. Kristen and Joe’s only child, a daughter, was born one month prior to his death. I’ve written a lot about that deployment – it’s appalling to know that surviving military families are being denied benefits they rightfully earned. As Kristen said back in 2012, “It’s infuriating to think that something my husband earned is not going to his family. It demeans his service.

What is the military ‘widow’s tax’? The issue lies with how the government deals with two separate military survivor payouts – the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) and the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) program. Under the current system, surviving family members (e.g. the ‘widows’) who receive both the SBP and DIC end up having their SBP reduced dollar for dollar for the amount they receive in DIC, regardless of how much the service member paid into the SPB during their career. An estimated 65,000 families are affected by this offset.

What is the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP)? According to the Department of Defense, the SPB “allows a retiree to ensure, after death, a continuous lifetime annuity for their dependents. The annuity which is based on a percentage of retired pay is called SBP and is paid to an eligible beneficiary. It pays your eligible survivors an inflation-adjusted monthly income.” Simply put, the SBP is a form of insurance.

What is the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) program? According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) program “is a tax free monetary benefit paid to eligible survivors of military service members who died in the line of duty or eligible survivors of Veterans whose death resulted from a service-related injury or disease.” It is commonly referred to within the military community as the ‘death benefit’.

Wait – so military families are encouraged to pay into an insurance program only to be legally prohibited from collecting it should the unthinkable happen? Yes. Current federal law requires survivors to forfeit part or all of their purchased SBP annuity if they also qualify for the DIC program. As a reminder, the DIC is for eligible survivors of military service members who died in the line of duty or whose death resulted from a service-related injury or disease.

Is this a recent development? Sadly, no. Advocates for the repeal of the ‘widow’s tax’ have been fighting Congress to fix the loophole for decades. The military’s “widows tax” does not discriminate against age, race, creed, or branch of service. It is simply a way for the government to squeeze more money from military families once their service member has either been killed in action or has died from a service-related injury or disease.

Kristen Fenty and her daughter on Capitol Hill in 2008

What is being done about it? Due to the tireless efforts of survivors and advocates for the elimination of the ‘widow’s tax’, legislation has been introduced in the past four Congress sessions (2011, 2013, 2015, 2017). Unfortunately, despite having significant sponsorship, it continuously failed to even receive a House vote.

It has never even made it to a vote? Seriously? What about in 2019? Currently there are two pieces of legislation with sponsorship – the Military Surviving Spouses Equity Act (H.R.553) in the House and the Military Widow’s Tax Elimination Act (S.622) in the Senate. Both proposed pieces of legislation have bipartisan support and would eliminate the provision.

So what happened on the hill yesterday? Senator Doug Jones (D, Alabama) stood on the Senate floor before the vote on the annual defense authorization measure in effort to add a repeal of the ‘widow’s tax’ (see video below). He called for unanimous consent to force a vote but Senate leaders wouldn’t allow it as an amendment in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman, Jim Inhofe (R, Oklahoma), and one of the 74 co-sponsors blocked the parliamentary move over financial questions and other anonymous objections. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the legislation would cost approximately $5.7 billion over the next decade. Senator Inhofe stated, “I support and will continue to support the permanent fix. It’s going to happen. We’re going to do it … but it can’t be on this bill.

What happens next? Despite advocates having fought to repeal the widow’s tax for years, this is the first time it has garnered this amount of attention in the general public. Senator Jones said yesterday that he has talked to House leaders in effort to bring up the bill in that chamber and that he will continue to fight on behalf of Gold Star families, whether it be as a standalone measure or as an amendment on an existing bill.

Kristen and her daughter in 2019

What can I do to help? Contact your representatives and urge them to support measures to end the ‘widow’s tax’. The Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) has a form that you can fill out to send a message through it’s Legislative Action Center. Use the hashtag #AxeWidowsTax when tweeting about the issue. Inform your family and friends about the issue. And don’t forget to say thank you to the members of Congress who have expressed their support.

Sources

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52 Things I’ve Learned in 52 Days {in no particular order}

  1. I missed blogging.
  2. But not enough to actually blog until day 52.
  3. I enjoyed working outside of the home.
  4. However, I dearly missed the flexibility of working from home.
  5. Early education teachers should be eligible for sainthood.
  6. Vitamin C face serum is life-changing.
  7. I have the ability able to say no and not feel guilty. Sorry, not sorry.
  8. Having a plan for everything is extremely overrated.
  9. The Frank Sinatra station on Amazon Music is my favorite dinner prep music. I feel so classy chopping onions as Fly Me to the Moon floats throughout the kitchen.
  10. How I feel is directly related to how much water I consume.
  11. I am incapable of relaxing at home – there is just too much that needs to be done!
  12. It is possible to document life and not it interfere with the actual process of making memories.
  13. I haven’t highlighted my hair since March and I’m kind of digging the darker roots (and random grays!).
  14. Every day counts.
  15. New York City is still one of my favorite places.
  16. It took me 36 years but I love a good straight-up martini (no olive, please).
  17. Walking in the rain is invigorating.
  18. An afternoon at the ball park is nostalgic, entertaining, and good old fashioned family fun. Go Nats!
  19. Seemingly lame things can actually be amazing.
  20. I’m prettier when I smile.
  21. Hearing Jon Meachum talk about his newest book with Tim McGraw at a gorgeous venue made me want to attend more book tours.
  22. If it feels like someone is trying to sell you something, they probably are.
  23. Coffee tastes better in an ironic mug.
  24. Spending time outdoors with Clay is not only one of my favorite things to do but something that is necessary for my well-being.
  25. The Frank Sinatra station on Amazon Music is my favorite dinner prep music. I feel so classy chopping onions as Fly Me to the Moon floats throughout the kitchen.
  26. How I feel is directly related to how much water I consume.
  27. I am incapable of relaxing at home – there is just too much that needs to be done!
  28. Small town parades are better.
  29. It is possible to document life and not have the process interfere with the actual process of making memories.
  30. I haven’t highlighted my hair since March and I’m kind of digging the darker roots (and random grays!).
  31. Pho is healing.
  32. New York City is still one of my favorite places.
  33. It took me 36 years but I love a good straight-up martini (no olive, please).
  34. I’m not meant to appear effortless.
  35. Walking in the rain is invigorating.
  36. Things that make me happy are worthwhile pursuits.
  37. I’m prettier when I smile.
  38. Hearing Jon Meachum talk about his newest book with Tim McGraw at a gorgeous venue makes me want to attend more book tours.
  39. I am reaffirmed in my decision not to publicly post about my kids’ grades and/or standardized test performance – no one cares.
  40. Doing one load of laundry a day is the easiest way to stay on top of it.
  41. Speaking of which, separating light and dark loads is for the birds.
  42. I’m still bitter about not PCSing overseas.
  43. Striving for perfection is not only futile, it’s boring.
  44. The little things really do matter.
  45. Wine tastes even better with a sunset view.
  46. I love being in my 30s. I’m really digging this phase of life.
  47. Change is good.
  48. Trader Joe’s Organic Jalapeño Limeade makes the best margaritas.
  49. I can’t no longer handle roller coasters with loops. Super high drop, though? Bring.it.on.
  50. My kids aren’t me.
  51. Life’s too short to worry about what I look like in a swimsuit.
  52. Writing is therapy.

Scenes from the past 52 days {in no particular order}…

Colonial Williamsburg
Japapeno Margarita
The Anthem
Valley Forge National Historical Park
Winery at Bull Run
Nats Park
Girls Trip
Pho
Kennett Square Memorial Day Parade

Where to go from here?

A quick glance at this space and it’s evident that I’m at a bit of a crossroads when it comes to this space. I let my ‘business’ plan lapse because I’m attempting to get back to the bones of writing, which explains the temporarily janky layout. I’ve been growing increasingly disillusioned with social media, the lack of authenticity, and the alarming number of booty pops on Instagram. Coupled with my new job, baseball season, and volunteer commitments – I’ve not only struggling to find the time to write but what exactly to write about.

According to blogging experts on podcasts, I am doing everything wrong. I am not monetizing, I am not seeking out collaborations, and my blog currently does not have a defined purpose. I do not have a writing schedule, I don’t attend blogging conferences, and I refuse to refer to myself as a blogger.

Hello. I am Karen. And I happen to blog. Occasionally.

At one point, I envisioned this space as a lifestyle blog, which is quite humorous because gallivanting around town or constantly curating scenes in attempt to capture the perfect shot isn’t exactly how I want to spend my time. While I consider myself a pretty good cook – I am not great at sharing recipes. Apparently people want more than “Eh – just throw a handful of that in the pot and if you have this on hand, add that too. If not – no big deal.” My outfits are not enviable nor am I particularly photogenic so for the sake of humanity, I shy away from most fashion-related posts. I don’t like to write about my kids in great detail so I am not onboard the mommy blogger train. I am not an influencer nor do I desire to be one. I love to travel but our budget only allows for one or two big trips each year so it seems silly to jump in the travel blogger pond during this season of my life. And yes – my husband is in the Army but I don’t want my role as a military spouse to define this space because it is only one of the many pieces that makes me whole.

I’m not going to stop writing. But I am going to stop worrying about whether I am doing it right or not. So if you’re interested in following a woman in her mid-thirties attempting to chase her purpose, please do so. And if not – no hard feelings. It’s all cool.

Spring Break 2019 Recap – Savannah, Georgia

After five states, four cities, and over 1600 miles, we are home and back to our regular routine. We had a great spring break. While our Easter was unconventional – the kids hunted for eggs in our Raleigh hotel room – it was spent with the people I love most in the world so I can’t complain. Tomorrow will be filled with work, school, baseball, and preparing ourselves up for the last quarter mile of the school year. The kids are currently asleep and Clay and I are watching Brooklyn 99 with computers on our laps – I’m writing this blog post and Clay is researching hotels in Munich (we booked our hotel for our time in Salzburg, Austria and I am unapologetically excited to nerd-out to Sound of Music locales – eek).

Okay – let’s talk about our spring break road trip. We briefly considered leaving Friday evening after Violet’s t-ball game but we quickly vetoed that idea when we realized that traditional Friday evening traffic on I-95 coupled with Spring Break traffic would be about as much fun as being forced to watch Speed 2: Cruise Control on a continuous loop for 24 hours. We made the right call because traffic horror stories dominated the local news cycle that night.

Yes – we have coordinating monogrammed LL Bean luggage. I’ll admit that it’s a bit dorky but also very efficient and practical. We woke up early on Saturday morning and pulled out of our driveway shortly after the sun rose. Our goal was to reach Savannah, Georgia by mid-afternoon but because we weren’t the only ones traveling south on I-95 that day, Waze pushed back our estimated time of arrival throughout the day. But soon enough (it felt like days) we pulled into the Savannah Riverfront Marriott and breathed a sigh of relief – it finally felt like vacation.

The hotel choice was perfect for our family. It is located along the river – within walking distance of Savannah’s historic River Street but just far enough removed from the rowdiness. The hotel upgraded us to a riverfront room so after catching our breath on the balcony, we changed out of our road trip clothes and walked to Boar’s Head Grill & Tavern, where we had made reservations via Open Table somewhere in North Carolina. 

The kids had their first sampling of fried green tomatoes topped with goat cheese. We all agreed that the she crab soup was delicious and enjoyed the view. After dinner, we walked around historic riverfront and the kids convinced us to pop into River Street Sweets. We walked up some spooky stairwells and found ourselves caught in the middle of what felt like the World’s Biggest Bachelorette Party. We watched a steamboat leisurely make her way up the river and admired the Waving Girl underneath the moonlight.

The next morning, we walked into Savannah and admired a few of the 15(?) public squares. We went to Café M for breakfast – a little Parisian café in the heart of historic downtown Savannah. The kids had orange juice and crougnuts while Clay and I enjoyed coffee and egg sandwiches. 

Guys – this seemingly simple egg and cheddar on a baguette was probably the best egg sandwich I’ve ever had. The eggs were so creamy and smooth – well worth the wait (did you know that Alton Brown’s recipe for scrambled eggs requires 20 minutes of constant stirring over low heat?). After brunch we walked around historic downtown some more before checking out of our hotel so we could continue on our trip. We weren’t in Savannah for very long but we will be back, for sure. Next up – Amelia Island, Florida!