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Senate votes against survivor pay offset

Jul. 21, 2009 - 04:56PM   |   Last Updated: Jul. 21, 2009 - 04:56PM  |  
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The Senate voted Tuesday to repeal an offset in pay for surviving spouses who are eligible for both military and veterans' survivor payments — but this is no guarantee extra money is coming.

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The Senate voted Tuesday to repeal an offset in pay for surviving spouses who are eligible for both military and veterans' survivor payments — but this is no guarantee extra money is coming.

Eliminating the offset in military survivors' benefits from the Defense Department for those also receiving dependency and indemnity compensation from the Veterans Affairs Department is the top priority of the 34-member Military Coalition, which has been urging Congress to act. So passage by voice vote of an amendment to the 2010 defense authorization bill that allows full payments of both benefits fulfills a push by the influential collection of military and veterans groups.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., the long-time sponsor of so-called SBP/DIC legislation, was the chief sponsor of the amendment to S 1390. The amendment was approved by voice vote and without debate.

About 57,000 survivors, mostly widows, would be affected if the provision were to become law. For most, elimination of the offset would result in a more than $1,100 increase in monthly benefits.

The Senate has passed similar legislation before, however, only to see it die in negotiations with the House of Representatives over questions of funding —estimated to be between $6 billion and $8 billion over 10 years.

The House version of the defense bill does not include a repeal of the SBP/DIC offset, leaving the fate of the Nelson provision to the outcome of negotiations between the House and Senate as they try to write a final version of the defense bill.

However, House Democratic leaders have been under intense pressure from military associations and from Republicans to do something about the SBP/DIC offset, leading supporters to hope that Nelson's amendment would force the House to try again.

In June, President Barack Obama signed into law a bill that included an extension through 2017 in a special allowance provided to survivors to partly make up for the offset. The allowance, currently $60 a month, is scheduled to increase a little each year until it grows to $310 in 2017, which still falls short of the $1,100 reduction from the offset. Boosting the allowance is one of the options being considered as a less costly alternative to full elimination of the offset, according to congressional aides working on military personnel issues.

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