Covid-19 Government and Partner Response Update
Military surviving spouses subject to the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) and Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) offset, commonly known as the “Widow’s Tax,” will potentially see an increase in their SBP payments beginning February 1, 2021.
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, signed into law on December 20, 2019, repealed the dollar-for-dollar offset of SBP payments from the Department of Defense (DoD) by the amount of DIC paid by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
The SBP-DIC offset repeal will be phased in over three years beginning on January 1, 2021 (paid as of February 1) with full elimination of the offset on January 1, 2023. The changes do not affect DIC payments from the VA. Eligible surviving spouses will continue to receive the full amount of DIC from the VA.
- In 2021 – SBP will be reduced by no more than two-thirds of the amount of DIC rather than by the entire amount. Eligible survivors will also continue to receive the Special Survivors Indemnity Allowance (SSIA), up to the maximum amount of $327 per month or up to the amount of SBP reduced by DIC (if the amount of the reduction is less than $327). Eligible surviving spouses will continue to receive the full amount of DIC.
- In 2022 – SBP will be reduced by no more than one-third of the amount of DIC received. Eligible survivors will also continue to receive the SSIA, up to the maximum amount per month, or up to the amount of SBP reduced by DIC (if the amount of the reduction is less than the maximum).
- In 2023 – the SBP-DIC offset will be eliminated completely. Surviving spouses eligible for both programs will receive both SBP and DIC payments in full, effective January 1 and paid as of February 1, 2023. SSIA payments will no longer be made.
TAPS was instrumental in working with Congress, organization partners, and survivors to finally eliminate the SBP-DIC offset. For over four decades, as many as 65,000 surviving military spouses were denied their service members’ earned benefits, an average loss of $925 a month or $11,000 annually.
TAPS is very proud of the leadership role we played in getting this over the finish line. In 2023, surviving spouses will receive their full survivor benefits without offset and future generations of surviving spouses will receive their benefits in full, amounting to millions of dollars in benefit payments.
Read our Frequently Asked Questions to learn more. (January 29, 2021)
Congress Passes Sweeping Veterans Benefits Package: TAPS was instrumental in the passage of the Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe, M.D. Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2020 (H.R.7105), which includes a variety of expansion of benefits for surviving families:
- Expanded eligibility for the Fry Scholarship to members of the National Guard and Reservists who die in the line of duty, but not while in a duty status
- Lowered the remarriage age for surviving spouses receiving DIC from 57 to 55
- Guaranteed service connected death rulings for members of the National Guard and Reserves who die of COVID-19
- Protected those using GI Bill benefits from predatory actors and restored education benefits for permanently closed schools
- Mandated study on Toxic Exposure issues related to veterans
The President signed the bill into law today, January 5, 2021.
TAPS will continue to advocate for a variety of other issues in 2021, including ensuring health care and benefits for veterans exposed to toxins and their survivors, increasing Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC), allowing surviving spouses to retain benefits upon remarriage, and further expansion of the Fry Scholarship.
If you have questions about any of the upcoming legislative changes, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
(January 5, 2021)
If you have questions regarding your government benefits, contact us at email@example.com.
What the Federal Government is Doing
- Coronavirus (COVID-19): Under the direction of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, FEMA, HHS and our federal partners are working with state, local, tribal and territorial governments to execute a Whole-of-America response to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and protect the public.
- USA.GOV: Learn what the U.S. federal government is doing in response to the coronavirus crisis. This site provides a host of information and links to important COVID-19 support from federal agencies.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): CDC is studying the virus worldwide and helping communities respond locally. This is a rapidly evolving situation and CDC will provide updated information and guidance as it becomes available.
- Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA): FEMA is working with the White House Coronavirus Task Force, Department of Health and Human Services and state, local, tribal and territorial governments to execute a Whole-of-America response.
- Internal Revenue Service (IRS): The IRS has established a special section focused on steps to help taxpayers, businesses and others affected by the coronavirus. This page will be updated as new information is available.
- U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA): Health and government officials are working together to maintain the safety, security, and health of the American people. Small businesses are encouraged to do their part to keep their employees, customers, and themselves healthy.
- Federal Housing Finance Agency: Special mortgage help is available for homeowners affected by COVID-19. Learn more about mortgage loan assistance.
- U.S. Department of Education Federal Student Aid: Federal Student Aid provides relief to student loan borrowers during the COVID-19 national emergency. Access current information for students, borrowers and parents.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA): The FDA has posted a Consumer Update on “Tips on Good Nutrition and Using the Updated Nutrition Facts Label During the Coronavirus Pandemic”
- U.S. Office of Personnel and Management (OPM): OPM works closely with a number of federal agencies to provide updated information to agencies and employees. The Federal Government is also looking to fill various positions to help respond to and fight COVID-19.
What the Department of Defense is Doing
- U.S. Department of Defense (DoD): Department of Defense is closely monitoring the outbreak of COVID-19. DoD is coordinating with interagency partners to ensure accurate and timely information is available and encourage all appropriate measures are taken to limit the virus' spread.
- Military OneSource: The Department of Defense is working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of State to provide support in dealing with the coronavirus disease outbreak.
- National Guard Bureau (NGB): The National Guard response to the coronavirus focuses primarily on supporting a surge for enhanced medical capacity and logistics support. Every state is battling COVID-19, and we need to be aware of the immense impact we have on our communities.
- Military Health System (MHS): To ensure we provide the most up-to-date information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, the Military Health System created this all-inclusive information center, which is updated regularly.
- TRICARE: TRICARE is the health care program for uniformed service members, retirees, their families and survivors. Stay informed about the new coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.
- Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA): The Defense Commissary Agency is committed to the health and safety of our customers and staff. We are closely monitoring the situation regarding COVID-19 and proactively following CDC guidelines. We adhere to the highest standards of DOD health protection in our stores.
- Defense Finance Accounting Service (DFAS): DFAS understands the challenges faced by our customers and vendors during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our employees are working each day to ensure payments are made and the mission is accomplished. Customer care center representatives are available to assist you as well as our online tools such as myPay and AskDFAS.
- DoD Office of Special Needs: The Department of Defense (DoD) Office of Special Needs and Military OneSource launched a new digital tool called EFMP & Me to help guide military families with special needs to the specific information and resources they need.
What the Department of Veteran Affairs is Doing
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
- VA Public Health: VA has implemented an aggressive public health response to protect and care for Veterans, their families, health care providers, and staff in the face of this emerging health risk.
- VA Coronavirus Frequently Asked Questions: VA has created a Coronavirus frequently asked questions (FAQs) page to help answer routine or non-urgent questions.
- VA Benefits and Resources Guide: VA has created a guide to help you learn how to use your VA health care benefits during this emerging health crisis and will provide links and resources you can reference to protect yourself and others.
- VA Launches Roll of Honor Web Page: The site provides an opportunity to remember those Veterans interred during the COVID-19 crisis and reflects interments in our cemeteries starting on April 13, 2020.
- VA Welcome Kit: Whether you are just getting out of the service or you have been a civilian for years now, the VA Welcome Kit can help guide you to the benefits and services you have earned.
- National Cemetery Administration (NCA): The VA’s National Cemeteries continue to serve our Veterans and their families during the COVID-19 health crisis, although some procedures have had to change in order to protect the health and safety of cemetery team members, volunteers, and families.
- VA Caregiver Support Program (CSP): Offers a menu of services to family members and friends who care for Veterans, including on-line courses, face-to-face classes, telephone support, and peer support.
- Veterans Treatment Courts: To continue serving Veterans during the COVID-19 pandemic, Veterans Treatment Courts (VTCs) across the country have moved to services online.
What the Legislative Branch is Doing
- Senators Urge Defense Secretary to Place Guard on Federal Orders: Chairman Jerry Moran and Ranking Member Jon Tester of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee sent Secretary Esper a letter urging him to bring all members of the Guard on to Federal Orders to ensure they receive the benefits they are entitled to while putting their lives in harm's way to defend our country during the COVID-19 outbreak. TAPS is leading efforts with Congress to ensure any member of the Guard who is activated during this time will be eligible for the benefits they deserve, especially if they die from their service.
- Congress Passes CARES Act: Congress passed and the President signed a $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act on March 27. The bill is the third large-scale congressional effort in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and provides relief to American families and workers. TAPS read through the 880-page bill and has provided key take-a-ways that affect our TAPS community the most.
- Congress Protects VA Education Loans: Congress passed legislation to ensure students continue to receive VA education benefits, even though the universities have gone online. Students should see no impact on their benefits for spring, summer and fall 2020 terms. TAPS and veterans education organizations worked with Congress to ensure survivors, veterans and families using the GI Bill will not be penalized during the COVID-19 crisis.
- Congress leading efforts to lower prescription drug costs for TRICARE beneficiaries: Congressman Andy Kim (NJ-03) and Congresswoman Elaine Luria (VA-02) are leading a bipartisan Congressional effort to lower prescription drug costs for TRICARE beneficiaries by eliminating copays on mail order prescription drugs incurred during the COVID-19 crisis. TAPS is working with Representatives Kim and Luria to garner support for this legislation, which will positively impact many survivors.
- House and Senate Introduce Legislation to Provide Financial Protection for Military Families Amid COVID-19: The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Ranking Member Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), Rep. Mike Levin (D-Calif.), and Chairman Mark Takano (D-Calif.) introduced bipartisan legislation to expand the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) to provide additional legal protections for servicemembers impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Ranking Member Jon Tester (D-Mont.) introduced companion legislation in the Senate.
- Senators Work to Increase Telehealth Options for Military Families During COVID-19: Senators Martha McSally (R-AZ) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) led a bipartisan call for the Defense Health Agency (DHA) to cover the full scope of telehealth services under TRICARE amid the coronavirus crisis, particularly mental health care. On May 12, 2020, TRICARE announced that it now covers telehealth visits by telephone and has eliminated the patient co-pays and cost shares for telehealth options during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Representatives Introduce Bill to Expand Veterans Survivor Benefits: TAPS is honored to join with Representatives TJ Cox (D-CA-21), Gil Cisneros (D-CA-39), Ted Yoho (R-FL-3), Jeff Van Drew (R-NJ-2) and Jahana Hayes (D-CT-5) to support their bipartisan legislation, the Caring for Survivors Act of 2020. This important legislation would improve benefits for survivors who lost their loved ones to a service-related injury or illness.
- Legislation Would Ensure Gainful Employment for National Guard, Reservist, and their Spouses: The Work for Warriors Act of 2020 (H.R. 7003) was introduced by Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif. If passed, the bill would task the Defense Department with creating a program that will connect local businesses to members of the reserve component and their spouses.
- Congressional Leaders Introduce Veterans Economic Recovery Act: Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, Rep. Mike Levin (D-Calif.), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity, along with Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kans.), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Ranking Member, introduced the Veterans Economic Recovery Act of 2020. TAPS supports this important legislation that would provide new education benefits to veterans who lost their job due to COVID-19.
- Senators Introduce the Child Care Affordability and Accessibility for Military Families Act: Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Tim Kaine (D-VA), members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, introduced legislation to make childcare more affordable and accessible for military families.
TAPS Partners and Additional Resources
- National Governors Association (NGB): Current information on the status of COVID-19 in the United States and abroad. What actions States and Territories have taken to address it.
- American Red Cross: The American Red Cross is closely monitoring the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic and following the latest guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- Johns Hopkins: Johns Hopkins University and Medicine is using its expertise to address the new coronavirus pandemic, treat patients, protect visitors and staff and provide up-to-date information to the public. Johns Hopkins offers a COVID-19 self-checker and answers to frequently asked questions. Information about how maternity wards have changed during this challenging time. They also provide a data center with detailed numbers of diagnosed and recovered.
- Salvation Army: The Salvation Army is caring for the people who are most vulnerable to Coronavirus. They offer food pantries, homeless shelters, help for domestic abuse, and emergency financial assistance.
- United Services Automobile Association (USAA): USAA is supporting worldwide efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19, while making sure military families have the tools and access needed to manage their financial life. They offer financial assistance and a list of COVID-19 resources.
- Association of Defense Communities (ADC): ADC, Blue Star Families, TAPS and fellow collaborative partners have joined forces to create the COVID-19 Military Support Initiative (CMSI), a united, national platform for sharing information, maintaining engagement, developing best practices and policy approaches to ensure our military receives the support it deserves. CMSI provides resources and expertise to support communities, states and military families through this crisis.
- Elizabeth Dole Foundation (EDF) Hidden Heroes: A number of the military and veteran families we serve may be at an elevated risk for COVID-19. EDF Hidden Heroes is working overtime to bring community members information, resources, and assistance as our nation battles this pandemic.
- The Parent Encouragement Program (PEP): PEP is offering free weekly webinars on Parenting Support During the Coronavirus. These informative webinars are held every Thursday at 12 noon Eastern on relevant topics addressing the evolving crisis.