- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 7, 2010

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 www.va.gov/healtheligibility 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 www.sealeader.org from Nov. 2, 2010 to March 7, 2011.

Routinely attracting a joint audience of more than 1,000 service women, the symposium has become a crucial component in the professional growth and development of women in the sea services. In addition to the Navy and Coast Guard, this year the Army and Air Force are participating partners in the Women’s Leadership Symposium, making it truly a joint event. The symposium features speakers from both industry and the military.

“The Sea Service Leadership Association’s annual Women’s Leadership Symposium is the largest gathering of women in uniform nationwide,” said Rear Adm. Janice Hamby, U.S. Navy Senior Board Member of SSLA. “We are so pleased that what started as a Navy and Coast Guard program now includes women from all of the services. At the heart of the symposium is the recognition that by bringing together service women to address the development issues that are most relevant to them as women, we are making stronger, more capable leaders — leaders that are better able to contribute to the mission of their organizations. We were very pleased at the strong attendance last year and look forward to the strong attendance from all service branches at the 2011 conference.”

Established in 1978, SSLA is the only organization in the United States directly sponsored by the Maritime Forces and is dedicated to providing professional development through networking, education, and mentorship of women from the United States Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. For more information, contact nfoster@susandavis.com

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 e-mail sgtshaft@bavf.org.

• Sgt. Shaft can be reached at .

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