SGT. SHAFT: Veteran’s widow says her benefits are not complete

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Dear Sgt. Shaft:

My husband passed away on July 18, 2012, from several service-connected illnesses.

While settling his affairs, going through his paper work and applying for widow’s benefits, I was dismayed to find out that just because I might qualify for DIC (Dependent indemnity Compensation) payments that the SBP (Survivor Benefit Program) payments would be offset.

I find paying into an insurance plan and to be told … oops … his cause of death qualifies you for another payment, so we can’t honor this one, although we paid premiums for the entire time of our marriage, is at the least, very dishonest.

So sad, hope we can get help. By the way, I read that there are approximately only 57,000 widows involved, and they can’t find the funds. Are you kidding me? And to add insult to injury, they’re talking about paying back the premiums with no interest. Unbelievable.

Mrs. B.
Via the Internet

Dear Mrs. B.:

Legislation has been introduced with many supporters in the House and Senate in recent years; however, the votes have not been there to correct this inequity. Hopefully, the new Congress will pass the appropriate legislation that will allow you and others to receive your earned benefits.

Shaft notes

• There has been considerable discussion over the last couple of weeks about the current state of military voting, with numerous concerns raised about how many military voters have actually registered for the upcoming election, and how much assistance these military personnel actually receive from the Department of Defense.

And it is with good reason that observers are concerned and skeptical of DoD assurances. For two years before I became Director of the DoD Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP), I was a very vocal critic of the program while Executive Director of the National Defense Committee.

But simply because it is easy to believe the Department of Defense is asleep on watch, or even worse, is actively suppressing military voting, does not make it so. Mostly because of a subtle, but analytically fatal flaw in the calculation of 2008 military ballot requests, and because of a persistent reliance of fundamentally flawed data, these reports of precipitous drops in military voting hide the actual experience of a significant increase in military voting this year.

States were required by law to automatically send extra ballots in 2008.

The analytically fatal flaw in these reports is that prior to 2009, federal law required state and local election officials to send absentee ballots automatically to any military and overseas voters who requested a ballot for that election, or in the previous election. What that means is that in 2008, election officials had to send absentee ballots to any military or overseas voters who requested ballots specifically in the 2008 election, or who requested ballots in the 2006 election, whether or not those voters also requested ballots for the 2008 election.

But state and local election officials thought this requirement to automatically send ballots was bad policy; these election officials complained to Congress that the requirement led to a large number of ballots either being returned as undeliverable (given the highly mobile nature of military voters) or never returned at all. In fact, during the 2008 election, while 91 percent of the general electorate’s absentee ballots were cast by voters, only about 67 percent of military and overseas voters’ absentee ballots were returned for that election.

Given those concerns, in 2009 Congress repealed that requirement to automatically send ballots as part of the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (MOVE Act). So for the 2010 and 2012 elections, states only have to send out absentee ballots to those military and overseas voters who specifically requested them in those particular elections.

2008 military/overseas ballot data underreports automatically sent ballots.

The impact of that law was substantial. Nationwide in 2008, states reported 231,000 military and overseas absentee ballots were sent automatically based on 2006 election ballot requests, and 346,000 were specifically requested in the 2008 election (412,000 more military and overseas ballots weren’t even categorized because the state reported data was so poor). That means nationwide about 40 percent of the ballots sent in 2008 were not requested in 2008 but were automatically sent because of ballot requests during the 2006 election.

Many of the states being analyzed in this election showed most of the ballots requested in the 2008 election were sent because of ballot requests from the prior election, not the 2008 election.

Unfortunately, many of the states discussed during this election cycle had exceptionally poor data collection systems in place during the 2008 election; the reported data is of dubious quality, with low reporting rates, lots of missing data, and inconsistent data between elections.

For example, even with that requirement discussed above to automatically send absentee ballots to any military and overseas voters who requested a ballot in the prior election, many states still reported thousands of absentee ballots requested in the 2006 election, but few or no ballots automatically transmitted in the 2008 election.

Therefore, it is very likely that the number of automatically transmitted ballots in these subject states during the 2008 election are much significantly underreported. This would mean that even fewer of the ballots sent in 2008 were specifically requested during that election, which in turn means that any comparison with 2012 is going to further underreport relative military and overseas voter registration in 2012.

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, D.C. 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330, call 202/257-5446 or email sgtshaft@bavf.org.

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