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.

 

TAPS Legislative Priorities for the Year:

 

Pass Landmark Toxic Exposure Legislation to Improve Healthcare and Benefits for Veterans, Their Families, Caregivers, And Survivors (S. 3003, H.R. 3967)

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 is working to pass the COST Of War Act (S. 3003) and the Honoring Our PACT Act (H.R. 3967). These Senate and House landmark bills will ensure 3.5 million veterans exposed to toxins and airborne hazards get immediate, lifelong access to VA health care.

According to DoD and VA, veterans who served after 9/11 may have been exposed to a dozen different wide-ranging environmental and chemical hazards, which carry very real risks. These veterans are getting sick and dying young from uncommon illnesses and early-onset disease.

Since 2008, over 16,500 survivors whose military loved ones died due to an illness have contacted TAPS. Sadly, we project this number to increase by more than 3,000 each year based on current trends.

In 2021, 31 percent of all military survivors newly connecting with TAPS experienced a loss due to illness- surpassing deaths by combat, non-combat, accidents, and suicides.

TAPS will continue to work with Congress to:

  • Pass the COST Of War Act (S. 3003) and the Honoring Our PACT Act (H.R. 3967).
  • Improve and expand healthcare and benefits for veterans, caregivers, and survivors.

Legislate critical funding for toxic exposure research, education, and outreach. 

Updates

May 18, 2022:

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Increase Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) (S.976, H.R.3402)

TAPS is working with Congress to pass the Caring for Survivors Act of 2021 (S. 976, H.R. 3402), 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.

Increasing DIC for surviving families is the #1 Goal of The Military Coalition (TMC) Survivor Committee, which TAPS co-chairs.

TAPS worked with Members of Congress to pass the Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe, M.D. Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2020 (H.R. 7105), which included a provisionto enable eligible surviving spouses to retain DIC upon remarriage at age 55.

TAPS remains committed to improving DIC and providing equity with other federal benefits as we continue working to:

  • Pass the Caring for Survivors Act of 2021 (S. 976, H.R. 3402).
  • Increase DIC from 43% to 55% of the rate of compensation paid to a 100% disabled veteran.
  • Reduce the timeframe a veteran needs to be rated totally disabled from 10 to 5 years, allowing more survivors to become eligible for DIC benefits.

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Introduce Comprehensive Remarriage Bill to Allow Surviving Spouses to Retain Their Benefits Upon Remarriage

Many surviving spouses choose not to remarry after the death of their service member because the loss of financial benefits would have a negative impact on them, especially those with children. To retain their benefits, many choose to cohabitate instead of legally remarrying. If a surviving spouse waits until age 55 to remarry, not only do they retain benefits, but they are no longer offset. Most first responders in the United States are also allowed to legally remarry in the U.S. and maintain pensions and benefits- including in New York, Los Angeles, and Louisiana.

A long-term goal for TAPS is to secure the right for surviving spouses to remarry at any age and retain their benefits.

Allowing surviving spouses to retain education benefits is a great starting point and will help create precedent. Choosing to remarry should not impact a surviving spouse’s ability to afford an education. They are still a surviving spouse of a fallen service member or veteran, who earned these benefits through service and sacrifice.

In addition to losing financial benefits, ID cards and TRICARE for themselves, remarried surviving military spouses lose access to the TRICARE Beneficiary Self-Service Account that allows them to access referrals and check the status of referrals for their TRICARE-eligible children. Instead, surviving spouses must physically mail referrals, which often delays treatment.

Remarried surviving spouses also lose access to Relay Health, which facilitates communication, prescription refills and appointments online. If a surviving spouse remarries, they will no longer be in the system under TRICARE, which means that they cannot access Relay Health for their minor children, who cannot have personal accounts.

TAPS and our coalition partners will seek legislation 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 requests Congress introduce legislation addressing surviving spouse remarriage issues to:

  • 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 retain Commissary and Exchange benefits.
  • Allow surviving spouses to keep both the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) and Dependents Indemnity Compensation (DIC) after remarriage at any age.
  • Allow remarried surviving spouses to regain their TRICARE benefits if their remarriage ends due to divorce or death.
  • Allow access to electronic medical appointments, referrals and prescription refills.
  • Remove the “Hold Themselves Out to Be Married” clause.

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Expand Mental Health Services for Survivors (S. 2817, H.R. 5029)

TAPS works closely with the VA Vet Centers and supports the Expanding the Families of Veterans Access to Mental Health Services Act (S. 2817, H.R. 5029), which provides Vet Center counseling and mental health services to surviving families of veteran suicide.

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 Prevention and 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 more than 16,000 individuals whose military loved ones died by suicide. In 2021, 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 Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act.

TAPS will continue to work with Congress, VA, and DoD to:

  • Pass the Expanding the Families of Veterans Access to Mental Health Services Act.   
  • Advance collaborative Suicide Prevention and Postvention efforts.
  • Prioritize mental health care as an essential element to overall wellness and readiness.
  • Advance a public awareness campaign to help save lives.

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Honor All Gold Star 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:

  • Introduce and pass the Gold Star Families Day Act.
  • Use inclusive language for legislation, “died while serving or from a service-connected injury or illness.”  

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Create One GI Bill for All Veterans, Survivors and Families

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, even if it is on a lower scale such as 70 percent as opposed to 100 percent of the benefit. Benefits under The Survivors' and Dependents' Educational Assistance (DEA) 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.

In addition, creating one GI Bill will remove workload issues for Education Services at VA and help streamline the process of applying for and accessing educational benefits, making VA’s goal of the Digital GI Bill more efficient.

TAPS is also working to pass the Fry Scholarship Enhancement Act of 2021 (S. 1096) to expand eligibility for those who die in the 120 day Release From Active Duty (REFRAD) period to the Fry Scholarship, which is the second phase in expanding eligibility to all Chapter 35 recipients.

TAPS requests Congress:

  • Introduce legislation to consolidate all remaining education benefits under Chapter 33.
  • Pass the Fry Scholarship Enhancement Act of 2021 (S. 1096)

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Strengthen the Death Gratuity

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- 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.

TAPS will work with Congress to: 

  • Secure a minimum of 50% of the Death Gratuity for eligible surviving spouses. 

  • Change the name of the Death Gratuity to more accurately reflect the intended purpose of the payment and sensitivity towards newly bereaved survivors.

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Provide Tricare and Champva Young Adult Coverage in Parity with the Affordable Care Act

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, TRICARE or CHAMPVA coverage does not include this rule.

TAPS supports the Health Care Fairness for Military Families Act of 2021 (S. 1972/H.R. 475), which would allow TRICARE young adults to remain on their parents' policy up to age 26 without a premium increase. Military dependents and survivors covered under their parents' TRICARE are only eligible to remain on those policies until 21 or 23 if they are still in college. Military families can purchase TRICARE Young Adult coverage, which comes with a premium.

TAPS supports the CHAMPVA Children’s Care Protection Act of 2021 (S. 727/H.R. 1801),which would 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 full-time students. 

  • TAPS supports the Health Care Fairness for Military Families Act of 2021 (S. 1972/H.R. 475).
  • TAPS supports the CHAMPVA Children’s Care Protection Act of 2021 (S. 727/H.R. 1801). 

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Ensure Benefits for Veterans Who Die of COVID-19 With Underlying, Service-Connected Disabilities (S. 89, H.R. 746)

Veterans who pass away from the coronavirus may have their cause of death labeled as “COVID-19” without accounting for service-related disabilities that further complicate their diagnosis. TAPS led efforts with Members of Congress to introduce the Ensuring Survivors Benefits during COVID-19 Act of 2021 (S. 89, H.R. 746),which ensures those disabilities are taken into account to provide families access to the survivor benefits they are eligible to receive.

TAPS is working to pass the Ensuring Survivors Benefits During COVID-19 Act.

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