Today, Congressman Joe Baca (D-Rialto) introduced legislation in the House of Representatives that calls for greater assistance to surviving spouses of World War II and Korean War veterans, who receive their spouses' Veterans Administration (VA) pensions. The Fairness for World War II and Korean War Spouses Act increases pension payments to surviving spouses of these conflicts to $10,458, which is the poverty threshold level established by the Social Security Administration. The average pension received by surviving spouses of the World War II and Korean War conflicts is currently $7,993 per year -- well below the current poverty line.
"As an Army veteran myself, I am keenly aware of the hardships our military families and spouses have endured in order to protect our nation," said Rep. Baca. "There are an estimated 150,000 spouses of veterans of the World War II and Korean War conflicts still living. These individuals deserve to live their final years with dignity and comfort. This responsible legislation ensures none of these courageous spouses will live below the 2011 poverty line of $10,458."
The age cohort for surviving spouses of the World War II and Korean War conflicts predominantly consists of women 79 years and older. Current Census Bureau data shows that women in this age category often live below the 125 or 150% poverty thresholds. In addition to increasing the pension for surviving spouses to the poverty threshold, the Fairness for World War II and Korean War Spouses Act prevents any dollar for dollar "off-setting" by the VA. Off-setting is a common practice in which the amount of monthly Social Security (or other federal assistance) benefits that a recipient receives are deducted from monthly VA pensions. The legislation also ensures that if the poverty threshold increases, the payments that eligible spouses receive will also increase to match the threshold.
"The veterans who have served the United States throughout our history not only deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, but should also have access to the very best in care and benefits," concluded Rep. Baca. "To fully live up to our responsibility, we must also strive to care for the spouses they have left behind, especially those who are elderly and vulnerable. I am proud to sponsor this bill, which can help ensure that no World War II or Korean War spouses spend their final years living in poverty."
Rep. Baca is a veteran who served in the U.S. Army as a paratrooper with both the 101st and the 82nd Airborne Divisions from 1966-68.