TAPS In Action

Author: Candace Wheeler

TAPS is committed to supporting and advancing policy and legislation to strengthen the families of America’s fallen military heroes. Our Policy Team listens to the concerns of our surviving military families and advocates on their behalf. We work to educate military and veteran organizations, Members of Congress, and policymakers within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Department of Defense (DoD), and other government agencies to ensure our surviving families receive the care and benefits their loved ones have earned through their service and sacrifice.

U.S. Capitol against sunset

TAPS Policy Team has been extremely busy this past year! Our leadership and hard work has produced long lasting results for surviving families…

 Elimination of the "Widow's Tax" and Repeal of the "Kiddie Tax"

TAPS was instrumental in the fight to finally eliminate the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) / Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) offset or “Widow’s Tax.” For more than four decades, as many as 65,000 surviving military spouses nationwide were denied their service members’ earned benefits, amounting to an average loss of $925 a month. With overwhelming bipartisan support from both Houses of Congress, this critical and long overdue legislation was signed into law on December 20, 2019 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2020. This was a hard-fought victory! 

TAPS also worked tirelessly to eliminate the “Kiddie Tax” on surviving military families. Due to a change in tax law under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, surviving military children who were formerly obligated to pay 12 to 15 percent in taxes on their unearned income were subjected to a 37 percent tax rate. Surviving military families and families of first responders were unintentionally hit with thousands of dollars in tax debt. TAPS worked alongside Congress to repeal the “Kiddie Tax” on surviving children and to reinstate military survivor benefits to the previous tax rate. 

In addition, TAPS worked with partner organizations to help ensure that students have access to GI Bill Benefits and that those benefits are only available at quality institutions of higher education. TAPS also advocated to expand survivor education benefits under the Fry Scholarship. We will continue to fight for both of these issues in 2020 and beyond.

TAPS has been at the forefront of four key pieces of legislation in 2020…

 Cheryl Lankford Memorial Act

Introduced by Representatives Dean Phillips (D-MN-3) and Dr. Phil Roe (R-TN-1) on July 21, 2020 as an amendment to the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The legislation would ensure that Casualty Assistance Officers are assigned to dependent children in the case a surviving spouse subsequently passes. The amendment is named in memory of Cheryl Lankford, a true champion for military widows benefits. A surviving military spouse and TAPS Peer Mentor, Cheryl died following a lengthy battle with cancer in May 2020. Her teenage son is now under the guardianship of his aunt, a civilian without knowledge of the health, burial, and educational benefits available to him as a military surviving child.

Naming this important bill in Cheryl’s honor is a fitting tribute to her years of advocacy on behalf of our nation’s surviving families.

 Toxic Exposure in the American Military (TEAM) Act of 2020 (S. 4393)

Introduced by Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) on July 31, 2020. This landmark bill would expand access to preventative and diagnostic services for veterans exposed to toxins, and establishes an independent scientific commission to research the health effects of toxic exposure and report its findings to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) and Congress. It also requires the VA to develop a questionnaire for primary care appointments to help determine whether a veteran may have been exposed to toxic substances during service. TAPS has been a leading voice in the fight for fundamental reforms for post 9/11 veterans exposed to toxins and is a founding member of the Toxic Exposure in the American Military (TEAM) coalition, comprised of nearly 30 veteran service organizations and stakeholders. TAPS will continue to call on Congress to ensure health care and guarantee death benefits for all veterans who have been and will be exposed to toxins since 9/11.

 COVID-19 Benefits for Active Duty Servicemembers, the Reserve Components, and their Survivors Act of 2020

Introduced by Senators Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Jon Tester (D-MT), chairman and ranking member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee (SVAC), and Representatives Mark Takano (D-CA-41) and Dr. Phil Roe (R-TN-1), chairman and ranking member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee (HVAC) on July 22, 2020. This important legislation would expand survivor benefits for members of the National Guard who are activated under federal orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It also creates an avenue for Guard members and Reservists to apply for disability compensation if they develop a disability or illness as a result of COVID-19.

 Ensuring Survivors Benefits during COVID-19 Act of 2020

Introduced by Senators Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) on July 7, 2020. This critical legislation would ensure the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) grants benefits to survivors of veterans who die of COVID-19 with an underlying, service-connected health issue that may have contributed to their death by COVID-19. Currently, veterans who pass away from this virus may have their cause of death labeled as “COVID-19” without accounting for service-related disabilities that further complicate their diagnosis. This legislation ensures those disabilities are taken into account, so family members have access to the survivor benefits they are eligible to receive.

TAPS Advocates for You...

TAPS continues to call on Congress to end Remarriage Penalties for surviving military spouses and increase Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) to provide equity with other federal benefits.

Candace Wheeler serves as TAPS Director of Policy. As always, we encourage you to stay informed and work with us to protect your earned survivor benefits. For more information, please contact policy@taps.org.