SGT. SHAFT: When are new spouses eligible for survivor benefits?

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Dear Sgt. Shaft:

My husband retired from the Navy in February 1971. He became a widower in April 1995. We married on Oct. 28, 2005. Our question is when will the military allow “new” spouses to be eligible for survivor benefits if their spouse who is retired and receives retirement benefits, passes away prior to the “new” spouse? I dare say a large percentage of retirees have remarried due to the death of a spouse and hopefully would be automatically eligible for survivor benefits.

Please let us hear from you concerning this matter.

Via the Internet

Dear Christina:

You are eligible now for DoD benefits — health care, commissary and exchange privileges, etc. You were eligible as soon as you received your military ID card. If you are asking about the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP), your husband had one year to decide whether or not to enroll you as a new spouse in SBP. If he failed to do so, but had SBP for his late wife, you were automatically enrolled. He may, however, owe back premiums. He should contact DFAS (1-800-321-1080) to find out her status for certain.

Shaft Notes

• The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is piloting new, personalized Veterans Health Benefits Handbooks. The handbooks are tailored to provide enrolled veterans with the most relevant health benefits information based on their own specific eligibility. In essence, each handbook will be written for the individual veteran.

“These handbooks will give Veterans everything they need to know and leave out everything that doesn’t apply to them,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “Our Veterans will now have a comprehensive, easy to understand roadmap to the medical benefits they earned with their service.”

In addition to highlighting each veteran’s specific health benefits, the handbook also provides contact information for the veteran’s preferred local facility, ways to schedule personal appointments, guidelines for communicating treatment needs and an explanation of the veteran’s responsibilities, such as copayments when applicable.

“Enhancing access isn’t just about expanding the kinds of services VA provides. It also includes making sure we do everything we can to ensure Veterans have a clear understanding of the benefits available to them so they can make full use of the services they have earned,” Shinseki said.

The new handbooks will initially be available only to certain veterans in the Cleveland and Washington, D.C., areas. Following the pilot phase, full implementation nationwide is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2011.

For additional information, go to or call VA’s toll-free number at 1-877-222-VETS (8387).

• The Sea Service Leadership Association (SSLA) has opened registration for its 24th Annual Women’s Leadership Symposium, the largest gathering of women in the uniform nationwide. Themed “Connect. Empower. Succeed,” this year’s symposium will offer women from all service branches an opportunity to focus on their leadership development while also highlighting the achievements of women leaders on the front lines across the globe.

The symposium will take place March 15-16, 2011, at the Sheraton Hotel and Marina in San Diego, Calif. Attendees can register at from Nov. 2, 2010 to March 7, 2011.

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