- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

Will you please publicize the injustice to military surviving spouses?

Although 100 percent disabled, my husband was able to receive both his military retirement pay and his VA disability, thanks to Sen. Harry Reid’s bill, S. 170. When he passed away, those concurrent receipt benefits were not passed on to me. Why?

It is only the extension of the dead veteran’s benefits that should be continued for his widow.

The Survivor Benefit Plan/Dependency and Indemnity Compensation offset for unremarried military surviving spouses is a “Dead Veteran’s Tax” that is being imposed on the retired service member’s surviving spouse.

I should not be required to remarry (over the age of 57), just to qualify for full SBP and DIC benefits. This is insulting and sexist.

Whatever you can do to encourage members of Congress to cosponsor this legislation — H.R. 178 in the House and S. 260 in the Senate — will help the approximately 57,000 military widows and widowers who are unremarried.

Via the Internet

Dear Janet:

I believe that you and other widows are getting the royal shaft. In the 112th Congress, there are three bills introduced to repeal the SBP/DIC offset: H.R.178, Military Surviving Spouses Equity Act, sponsored by Rep. Joe Wilson, South Carolina Republican; H.R.1979 sponsored by Rep. Robert Andrews, New Jersey Democrat; and S. 260 sponsored by Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat.

The House bills are essentially dead as the House Armed Services Committee never really considered them. S. 260 will likely be introduced as an amendment to the Defense Authorization bill when the bill comes to the Senate floor. Date unknown. So the issue is very much still alive, but the prognosis for success is guarded.

I urge the Congress to pass the appropriate legislation to ensure that these widows’ are treated fairly as their husbands would have wanted.

Shaft notes

• Kudos to fellow combat veteran Sen. Jim Webb, Virginia Democrat, for his recent announcement that he will introduce “The Military Service Integrity Act of 2012,” which could bring criminal penalties to any individual for making a false claim to have served in the military or to have been awarded a military medal, decoration or other device in order to secure a tangible benefit or a personal gain.

The legislation was drafted to comply fully with the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment restrictions outlined recently by the Supreme Court decision United States v. Alvarez, which struck down the original Stolen Valor Act of 2005.

“Profiting from the misrepresentation of military service or the award of a decoration or medal for personal gain undermines the value of service and is offensive to all who have stepped forward to serve our country in uniform,” Mr. Webb said. “The Supreme Court has outlined a very clear way forward to bring accountability to such reprehensible actions. The legislation I am introducing will do so within the scope of the protections offered to all Americans under the First Amendment.”

Mr. Webb, who served as a Marine rifle platoon and company commander in Vietnam, sits on both the Senate Armed Services and Veterans’ Affairs committees. A former Assistant Secretary of Defense and Secretary of the Navy, he was the author and original sponsor of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill.

Mr. Webb’s legislation would make the false representation of military service or the award of a decoration, medal or ribbon or other device authorized by Congress for personal gain punishable by a fine or imprisonment for not more than six months, or both. The legislation would also reinstate measures dating to 1947 that would make it a crime to manufacture, sell, attempt to sell, import, or export U.S. military decorations or medals authorized by Congress for the armed forces except when authorized under regulations made pursuant to law.

The legislation encompasses such tangible benefits or personal gains as communications in pursuit of government benefits related to military service; a resume or other communication in the pursuit of employment or professional advancement; communications for which financial remuneration is involved; and those designed to affect the outcome of criminal or civil court proceedings or to impact one’s personal credibility in a political campaign.

• Congratulations to House Army Caucus Co-Chairman John Carter, who was honored by Vets First, a program of United Spinal Association, at its annual award reception with their Bronze Star Award in honor of his pursuit of legislation to ensure that veterans with disabilities who use service dogs have access to veterans affairs facilities.

“It is a great honor to receive this award, and I dedicate it to all the groups and individuals who helped bring this new law into reality,” says Mr. Carter, Texas Republican.

“Thanks to their help, we have achieved an important legal clarification for every veteran who uses a service dog,” Mr. Carter says. “Under this law, veterans now have the unquestioned right to use their medical service dog in VA facilities under the same rules as those acknowledged for seeing-eye dogs. While many facilities have followed this policy in the past, this law permanently codifies those rules for all facilities nationwide.”

In addition to seeing-eye dogs, veterans are increasingly using medical service dogs for disability assistance due to hearing loss, traumatic brain injury, seizures and mobility assistance for amputees. The Carter legislation, H.R. 1154, the Veterans Equal Treatment for Service Dogs Act, H.R. 1154, amended Title 38 to guarantee all medical service dogs are allowed into VA facilities. The effort was supported by VetsFirst, AMVETS and the Military Order of the Purple Heart.

• The House of Representatives affirmed its ongoing commitment to America’s veterans by overwhelmingly passing the Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2012 (H.R. 4114).

If signed into law, H.R. 4114 would increase the annual cost-of-living rate for veterans, which goes into effect on Dec. 1, 2012. It is estimated that this year’s COLA will be approximately 1.9 percent. The legislation now heads to the Senate for consideration.

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 [email protected].

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