- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 11, 2005

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

The debate over the Senate version of the defense authorization bill continues, and I want your readers to be aware of a very important item that affects about 55,000 military widows and widowers and 200,000 “Greatest Generation” retirees.

As you know, current law reduces payments for the Survivors Benefit Plan (SBP) for survivors of members whose death was caused by military service. In those cases, the survivor is entitled to a payment from the Department of Veterans Affairs (currently $993 a month for a spouse), and the SBP payment is reduced by that amount. Often, this wipes out most or all of the SBP annuity.

The Military Officers Association of America believes this is extremely unfair. If military service caused the service member’s or retiree’s death, the VA indemnity benefit should be added to the SBP annuity, not substituted for it. Most active-duty deaths generate relatively modest SBP amounts anyway. And survivors of retirees shouldn’t have to forfeit any of the SBP benefits for which the retired member paid premiums.

Another inequity affects older retirees enrolled in SBP. Congress passed a law in 1998 that authorized paid-up SBP coverage for retirees who have attained age 70 and paid SBP premiums for 30 years. But Congress delayed the effective date of that law until October 2008 to save money. That delayed effective date means thousands of Greatest Generation retirees who enrolled in SBP in 1972 will have to pay premiums for 36 years — and will end up paying about one-third more SBP premiums than people who retired after 1978.

Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat, has introduced an amendment to the Senate defense authorization bill that would end these two major SBP inequities as of Oct. 1.

Sen John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has filed an amendment that would delete Mr. Nelson’s fixes and substitute language that merely calls for a study of the VA/SBP offset issue. By deleting any reference to paid-up SBP, the Warner amendment would effectively kill any fix for the Greatest Generation retirees.

Fixing these inequities is MOAA’s top legislative issue for this year. MOAA believes strongly that survivors and older retirees need action on Mr. Nelson’s amendment now, not just delays and studies.

I hope your readers will urge their senators to support Mr. Nelson’s SBP amendment and oppose any effort to dilute, defer, or deny these needed fixes for military survivors and retirees.

They can do that by visiting MOAA’s Web site at capwiz.com/moaa/home and clicking on the “Fix SBP Now” link.


Vice Adm. Norb Ryan Jr, USN (retired)

President, Military Officers Association of America

Dear Admiral:

Justice delayed is justice denied. I urge all my readers to contact their senators and representatives and urge them to correct these inequities.

Shaft notes

Thanks to Rep. Sam Graves, Missouri Republican, for introducing legislation to protect service members from dangerous predatory-lending practices. The legislation, H.R. 97 has been referred to the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Mr. Graves said he thought loan rates should be the last thing on soldiers’ minds.

“America’s soldiers defend our freedom overseas,” Mr. Graves said. “I do not think they should be taken advantage of at home.”

A recent analysis of credit-industry studies found that 26 percent of military households have done business with high-cost instant lenders. Those same soldiers often are forced to continue taking out loans with higher and higher annual percentage rates (APR) that make it impossible for the original loan to be repaid. The average APR for a payday loan is 300 percent.

Mr. Graves’ legislation would cap the APR for soldiers taking out payday loans at 36 percent.

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, PO Box 65900, Washington, D.C. 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330; call 202/257-5446; or e-mail [email protected]

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