- The Washington Times - Monday, June 26, 2006

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

Current law requires a surviving spouse receiving both survivors benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Survivor Benefits Plan to lose a dollar-for-dollar amount from SBP if the service member dies of a service-connected disability.

Question: If the service member dies of a non-service disability, do the same rules apply? I have tried to get an answer to this question from several sources — to no avail.

Thank You

Loren R.

ADCS USN Ret.

Dear Loren:

The Gold Star wives tell me that the basic answer is no. The service member’s surviving spouse would not qualify for VA Compensation (Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, or DIC), when death is caused by a non-service disability. Therefore, there is no DIC to offset.

Those eligible for DIC are survivors of those who died on active duty or died of service-connected disability. SBP started in 1972. Those servicemen who were eligible for retirement had the option to “purchase” SBP. Should he die of service-connected disability, the widow would be eligible for DIC. Since September 11, 2001, new widows are given SBP even though their husbands never lived long enough to retire.

However, most of these new widows never see any SBP because the DIC (which is $1,033 a month) is more than the SBP, and it’s completely offset. We are trying to get the offset eliminated with Senate Bill 185 and House Bill 808, which would eliminate this provision.

There’s a big group of widows who are not eligible for SBP because their husbands never lived long enough to retire to take the option to buy SBP.

Shaft notes

American Legion National Commander Thomas L. Bock recently said he is encouraged that Congress and the administration are scrutinizing the lapse in procedure that led to the largest information security breach in the history of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

However, he added that “VA must do everything possible to ensure that the personal information of America’s veterans, active duty, Guard and reserve personnel is never stored, packaged or transferred in a method that will allow such an enormous loss to result from the lapse in judgment of a single VA employee.”

“The loss of more than 26 million veterans records … is an inexcusable betrayal of trust,” Mr. Bock said.

Although a few veterans’ organizations may think that filing suit against VA will help veterans, I urge patience in allowing the existing offices of oversight to complete their analysis of this situation.

“The executive and legislative branches of our government are working toward a fair and expeditious resolution to this matter. Dragging the judicial branch into this by filing a lawsuit will only impede the process,” Mr. Bock said. “It is unlikely that the threat of a lawsuit against the VA would act as a catalyst for the speedier recovery of the lost information.”

I do however urge the administration and Congress to enact legislation that would strongly penalize those individuals who steal the identity of our active-duty military, our veterans and their families.

• A soldier from Idaho was honored in North Africa recently by Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican.

“George Campbell Jr. was from my home state, and he proudly served his country and died while fighting against the Germans in World War II. I was pleased to honor him on behalf of all Americans, but especially on behalf of his sister who called my office to let me know that no one in the family has ever been able to visit his grave,” said Mr. Craig.

“I intend to return to her a small flag that I flew briefly at his final resting place, as well as a picture of his headstone. I hope it will provide some degree of comfort to know that while her brother is gone, he is not forgotten. He is resting in a beautiful location.”

Pfc. Campbell was in the 3rd U.S. Infantry Division and was awarded the Silver Star and the Purple Heart. He was wounded in Sicily and was transferred to Tunisia, where he died Sept. 7, 1943.

Three of his brothers also served in the military during World War II.

Of the four, two survived. John Henry Campbell was killed in action in 1945. He is buried in Luxembourg. There is a memorial plaque with the names of each of the “band of brothers” in Culdesac, Idaho.

Their sister, Ethel Hohstein, called Mr. Craig’s office when she learned that he would be visiting the North African cemetery where her brother is buried. She said that none of her relatives has ever been able to visit that site.

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

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