TAPS Policy and Legislative Priorities
The mission of TAPS is to offer comfort and support for surviving families of military loss regardless of the location or manner of their death. Part of that commitment includes advocating for improvements in programs and services provided by the Federal government through the Department of Defense (DoD), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Department of Education (DoED), Department of Labor (DOL), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), as well as State and local governments. TAPS also works to advance policy and legislation to strengthen the families of America’s fallen military heroes.
- Pass Comprehensive Remarriage Legislation
- Improve Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) for Survivors
- Ensure Implementation of the PACT Act for Veteran and Survivors
- Expand Mental Health Services and Suicide Pre/Postvention Efforts
- Honor All Gold Star Families
- Strengthen and Rename the Death Gratuity for Surviving Families
- Provide Tricare and Champva Young Adult Coverage in Parity with the Affordable Care Act (ACA)
- Create One GI Bill for All Veterans, Survivors and Families
- Protect and Preserve Commissary and Exchange Benefits
A top priority for TAPS is to secure the right for surviving spouses to remarry at any age and retain their benefits. Many surviving spouses choose not to remarry after the death of their service member because the loss of financial benefits would negatively impact them, especially those with young children. To retain their benefits, many choose to cohabitate instead of legally remarrying. If a surviving spouse waits until age 55 to remarry, they retain benefits.
Choosing to remarry should not impact a surviving spouse’s benefits or ability to afford an education. They are still the surviving spouse of a fallen service member or veteran, who earned these benefits through service and sacrifice. Most survivors of first responders in the United States are allowed to remarry and maintain pensions and benefits.
TAPS also seeks to remove the “Hold Themselves Out to Be Married” clause from 38 USC, Section 101, paragraph 3. We believe it unduly penalizes surviving spouses and may cause them to lose their survivor benefits.
TAPS worked with Senators Warnock and Moran and Representatives Phillips, Hudson, and Moore to introduce the first truly comprehensive remarriage bill, the Love Lives On Act of 2022, endorsed by close to 30 Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs).
TAPS is working with Congress to pass the Love Lives On Act, which would:
- Remove the arbitrary age of 55 as a requirement for surviving spouses to retain benefits after remarrying.
- Allow remarried surviving spouses to maintain access to education benefits under the Fry Scholarship and Dependents Education Assistance (DEA).
- Allow remarried surviving spouses to keep their Commissary and Exchange benefits.
- Allow surviving spouses to retain both the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) and Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) after remarriage at any age.
- Allow remarried surviving spouses to regain their TRICARE benefits if their remarriage ends due to divorce, annulment, or death.
- Remove the “Hold Themselves Out to Be Married” clause.
TAPS is working with Congress to pass the Caring for Survivors Act, which will bring Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) payments in line with benefits for surviving spouses of federal employees. DIC is a tax-free monetary benefit paid to eligible survivors of military service members who died in the line of duty or from a service-connected injury or illness.
Strengthening DIC for surviving families is the number 1 goal of The Military Coalition (TMC) Survivor Committee, which TAPS co-chairs.
TAPS remains committed to working with Congress to:
- Increase DIC from 43 percent to 55 percent of the rate of compensation paid to a 100 percent disabled veteran, providing equity with other federal benefits.
- Reduce the timeframe a veteran needs to be rated totally disabled from 10 to five years, allowing more survivors to become eligible for DIC benefits.
As the leading voice for the families of those who died as a result of illnesses connected to toxic exposure and co-chair of the Toxic Exposure in the American Military (TEAM) Coalition, TAPS led efforts to pass the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act (H.R.3967).
TAPS worked with leadership of the Senate and House of Representatives; Chairmen and Ranking Members of the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees and their staff, the Biden Administration; the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA); veteran and survivor advocates, including Jon Stewart and John Feal; and more than 60 veteran and military organizations who joined together to advocate for this critical legislation. TAPS was proud to witness President Joe Biden sign the PACT Act into law on August 10, 2022.
This historic bill ensures 3.5 million veterans of multiple generations who were exposed to burn pits, toxins, and airborne hazards while deployed are provided immediate, lifelong access to VA health care and critical benefits, to include their families, caregivers, and survivors. The VA estimates there are 382,000 potential survivors who may be eligible for PACT Act benefits.
TAPS is working with the VA to identify, educate, and encourage survivors who lost their loved ones as a result of toxic exposure to submit cla ims to apply for PACT Act-related benefits.
TAPS will continue to work with Congress to:
- Ensure proper implementation of the PACT Act for veterans and their survivors.
For more than a decade, TAPS has been on the front lines of suicide postvention efforts to support military families grieving deaths by suicide and using gained knowledge to save countless lives through suicide prevention efforts. The TAPS Suicide Postvention team has developed a research-informed, best practice — TAPS Postvention ModelTM — for suicide-loss survivors, decreasing the risk of additional suicides and promoting healing.
TAPS has supported nearly 22,000 individuals whose military loved ones died by suicide. In 2022, 29 percent of those coming to TAPS for care each day were grieving a death resulting from suicide and a life that included military service. TAPS conducts in-depth interviews with each survivor to reflect on their loved one's life before suicide. One typical pattern identified among thousands of military suicide survivors is the call for the nation and military community to prioritize mental health care as an essential element to overall wellness and readiness.
TAPS thanks Congress for passing the Expanding the Families of Veterans Access to Mental Health Services Act (H.R. 5029), included within the Support The Resiliency of Our Nation's Great (STRONG) Veterans Act of 2022 (H.R.6411), and passed within the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023 (H.R. 2617). This important law will ensure critical Vet Center counseling and mental health services to surviving family members of a veteran or service member who died by suicide.
TAPS has also become increasingly alarmed by the growing rate of opioid dependence and opioid-related deaths among service members and veterans. According to a study commissioned by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), military veterans are twice as likely as the general population to die from an opioid overdose. Synthetic opioids, like Fentanyl, are also highly addictive and 50-100 times more potent than morphine, according to a report by the American Addiction Centers.
TAPS will continue to work with Congress to:
- Prioritize mental health as an essential element to overall wellness and readiness for service members, veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors.
- Advance collaborative suicide prevention and postvention efforts.
- Raise awareness of the growing rate of opioid dependence and Fentanyl-related deaths among service members, veterans, and families.
As the national provider of compassionate care and resources for all those grieving the death of a military loved one, TAPS fully endorses the Gold Star Families Day Act. This important bill will create a federal holiday as a national day of remembrance for all those who have lost a loved one to military service, regardless of the manor, place, or time of death. While Memorial Day honors all those who have served and died in defense of our freedom, Gold Star Families Day would honor their families’ tremendous sacrifice for our nation.
TAPS greatly appreciates the use of inclusive language to define Gold Star Families as most service-connected deaths are non-combat related.
VA does not distinguish by cause of death. There is no differentiation of military headstones, the folding of the flag, playing of Taps, or the distribution of government benefits based on the geography or circumstances of a service member’s death, whether they died in combat, by accident, as a result of an illness, or by suicide. A service member’s death is honored and remembered based on their life and service - not the geography or circumstance of the death.
TAPS will work with Congress to:
- Pass the Gold Star Families Day Act.
- Use inclusive language for legislation, “died while serving or from a service-connected injury or illness.”
The longstanding purpose of the Death Gratuity is to provide eligible survivors of deceased members of the armed forces with cash payments to meet their financial needs and obligations during the period immediately following a service member's death, which is critical when paychecks stop and before other survivor benefits become available.
Since the government can only reimburse travel vouchers, but cannot authorize travel advances, eligible family members often incur substantial out-of-pocket funeral expenses. The person incurring initial costs may be unable to travel to the funeral, pay their rent or mortgage, or put food on the table for their family if they do not receive the Death Gratuity right away.
In 2008, the law was changed to allow service members to designate any person or persons to receive up to 100 percent of the Death Gratuity in 10-percent increments. This immediate payment was originally intended for those dependent on the service member's paycheck to survive, to ensure they could meet immediate expenses.
TAPS will work with Congress to:
Secure a minimum of 50 percent of the Death Gratuity for eligible surviving spouses, if any, or primary surviving family member to reflect the intended purpose of the Death Gratuity: to be a bridge payment before other survivor benefits become available.
Rename the Death Gratuity to "Survivor Bridge Payment" to more accurately reflect the intended purpose of the payment and sensitivity toward newly bereaved survivors.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA), signed into law in 2010, allows young adults to remain on their parent's health care plans until age 26. This rule applies to all plans in the individual market and to all employer plans. However, neither TRICARE, nor CHAMPVA coverage includes this rule.
TAPS supports the Health Care Fairness for Military Families Act, which would allow TRICARE young adults to remain on their parent's policy up to age 26 without a premium increase. Military dependents and survivors covered under their military parent's TRICARE policy are only eligible to remain on those policies until the age of 21 or 23 if they are still in college. Military families can purchase TRICARE Young Adult coverage, which comes with a premium.
TAPS is working to expand coverage for eligible surviving children up to age 26 through the Civilian Health and Medical Program for the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA). Currently, young adults using CHAMPVA are no longer eligible for coverage when they turn 18, or 23 if they are a full-time student. TAPS supports the CHAMPVA Children's Care Protection Act.
TAPS will continue to work with Congress to:
- Pass the Health Care Fairness for Military Families Act.
- Reintroduce the CHAMPVA Children’s Care Protection Act.
Chapter 35 is an outdated education benefit provided by the VA. The Forever GI Bill increased education benefits by $200 per month, however, that remains nearly half of the amount paid by the Montgomery GI Bill, and far less than the Post 9/11 GI Bill and Fry Scholarship.
TAPS recommends sunsetting Chapter 35 and moving all qualified recipients to Chapter 33. Benefits under the Survivors' and Dependents' Educational Assistance (DEA) program are significantly lower than the Post-9/11 GI Bill, Fry Scholarship, and Montgomery GI Bill. Those using DEA are limited to dependents of a 100 percent disabled veteran or those who died of a service-connected death. Creating one GI Bill will remove workload issues for education services at the VA and help streamline the process of applying for and accessing educational benefits, making the VA's goal of the Digital GI Bill more efficient.
TAPS requests Congress:
- Introduce legislation to consolidate all remaining education benefits under Chapter 33.
- Pass the Fry Scholarship Enhancement Act to expand eligibility for those who die in the 120-day REFRAD period to the Fry Scholarship.
Commissary and Exchange benefits provide a vital non-pay compensation benefit to service members, retirees, their families, and survivors. The military community consistently ranks them as a top compensation benefit, yielding returns to military families and the Department of Defense that far outweigh taxpayer support.
Military and surviving families rely on these valuable earned benefits to stretch their household budgets and provide healthy food for their families. For military families experiencing food insecurity, or surviving families on fixed incomes, the savings commissaries and exchanges provide are critical to their financial well-being.
TAPS continues to urge Congress to:
- Allow surviving spouses who remarry before age 55 to retain their Commissary and Exchange benefits.
- Preserve the Commissary benefit as part of the overall pay and compensation package, including high-quality products, and maintain savings, access, and customer satisfaction.
- Maintain appropriations for the Exchanges with proper support and distribution of Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) dividends to ensure quality-of-life programs.
- Provide congressional oversight of all transformation changes impacting Military Resale to preserve quality, savings, and access for patrons, and sufficient MWR dividends.