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National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 - Continued

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. NELSON of Florida. Mr. President, the chairman has asked me to manage the bill in the meantime while he is working out with the leadership a list of amendments.

Seeing no other Senator who wants to speak at this point, if I may, then I will talk about an amendment that would be offered in the future.

I am going to offer an amendment to repeal the offset in the Department of Defense and the VA benefits for military widows and widowers. The standalone bill, S. 260, has widespread support from military organizations and has 51 cosponsors in the Senate. This is the ninth time that I have and will bring this amendment to the Defense Authorization Act.

It has passed the Senate six times over the past decade, including last year by voice vote. The Senate has supported eliminating this offset for years. I hope this body will remain steadfast in its support for military widows and survivors.

The Presiding Officer will recall in a number of addresses that President Lincoln gave he spoke of the responsibility the government has to take care of the veteran and his widow and orphans. That is an ingrained principle within the law. That is an ingrained principle as we uphold the finest fighting force in the world, which is our military.

What this amendment does is it addresses the longstanding problems faced by those survivors of people who are killed in action or whose death is related to the service in the military. The requirement for the dollar-for-dollar reduction of the Department of Defense Survivor Benefit Plan--it is an annuity--is offset by the amount of dependency and indemnity compensation that is received from another department, the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The Survivor Benefit Plan from the Department of Defense is an optional program for military retirees offered by the Department of Defense. Military retirees pay premiums out of their retirement pay to ensure that their survivors will have adequate income upon that servicemember's death. That is an insurance plan paid for by the military retiree.

On the other hand, the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation is a completely different survivor benefit. It is administered by the VA. When military service caused the servicemember's death, either due to service-connected disability or illness or Active-Duty death, surviving spouses are entitled to a monthly compensation. Most recently that has been $1,154. That comes from the VA. That is as a result of death with a service-connected disability or illness or Active-Duty death.

Now, of the 270,000 survivors that are receiving, under the insurance plan, the Survivor Benefit Plan, about 54,000 of those widows and orphans are subject to the offset.

According to the Defense Actuary, 31,000 survivors' SBP, the insurance plan, is completely offset by the dependency and indemnity compensation, meaning that the widow or the widower must live just on the DIC, which is $1,154. Well, that is simply not fair because if you engage in an insurance contract and you pay premiums to give you a certain return upon the happening of an event--in this case, the death of a retired military member--then that contract ought to be offered. But because this has been an expensive item in the past, what has happened over the years that this Senator has been trying to eliminate this offset is we have whittled it down but not completely done the complete offset. The fact is that the group of people affected, the group of widowers or widows, is getting smaller and smaller and therefore is going to cost less. I know of no purchased annuity plan that would deny payout based on the receipt of a different benefit, which is the case here.

Retirees bought into the SBP, the insurance plan, in good faith, these military families planned for the future, and the government failed to hold up its end of the bargain.

The military has a longstanding tradition never to leave a comrade behind, but that is what we are doing to the military survivors, the widows and the orphans. We are not taking care of those who are left behind.

We must meet our obligation to the widow and the orphan with the same sense of honor as was the service their loved one rendered. We must eliminate this SBP-DIC offset. It is the right thing to do, and it is going to cost a lot less than when I tried this 11 years ago, but there will be costs. But we have to start by setting the policy of what is right.

Mr. President, I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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