Monday, February 13, 2006

The Widow's Tax: End This Undue Burden To Our Military's Families.

This morning I came across a post on WesPac. It was an Op-ed piece printed in today’s New York Times by one of the regular posters on securingamerica.com’s community website. The following is the article as presented in the NYT followed by the response offered by General Wesley Clark. Please take a moment and write your federal, state, and local representatives regarding the material you are about to read, for the sake of our troops, and their families.

LEFT BEHIND
By Dan Shea
2/13/06
Seattle WA.

MY brother Lt. Col. Kevin Shea was killed by a rocket attack in Falluja on Sept. 14, 2004. He knew the risks when he joined the Marine Corps in 1989. But he also thought that if anything ever happened to him, the United States government would take care of his wife, Amy, and his two children. Sadly, that's not the case.
Since Kevin died, Amy has had to deal with not only the grief of losing her husband and her best friend, but also with the difficulties of financially coping with life without him. Like most military spouses, during her time with Kevin, Amy endured multiple moves across the country and long deployments that forced her to put her career on hold. There are federal programs to assist her, but she and other widows of service members have found that these programs do not provide nearly enough.
You see, basically, a widow of a service member killed in the line of duty has two programs (excluding Social Security) to rely on for financial help. The first is a survivors' plan paid by the Department of Defense, which is about 41 percent of the deceased person's monthly salary before taxes. The second program is a dependent's compensation paid by the Department of Veterans Affairs that is $1,033 a month tax free, plus a modest sum added for every dependent child.
Sounds fair, right? But here's the problem: under the current law, the payment from the Defense Department to a surviving spouse is reduced dollar for dollar by the Veterans Administration's payment. So while you would think my sister-in-law, as the wife of a lieutenant colonel whose basic monthly salary is $4,431.60, would receive about $2,850 a month (41 percent of $4,431.60, or $1,817, plus $1,033), in fact, all she's getting is $1,817, that is, $784 from the Pentagon and $1033 from Veterans Affairs. Moreover, if Amy, who is 41 years old, remarries before the age of 55, she gets nothing.
The wife of a low-ranking enlisted soldier, say, a Marine lance corporal, is even worse off. All she gets is the dependent's payment of $1,033, because there is nothing left of her husband's salary after this so-called widow's tax takes its bite.
We all know it's not about the money, but come on, how can you survive on that in this economy?
This past Veterans Day, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to endorse an amendment proposed by Senator Bill Nelson, Democrat of Florida, to the defense authorization bill that would have eliminated the widow's tax. The bill then went into conference, where House and Senate members worked out various differences before a final vote by Congress. During that time, the amendment was removed. One can only assume that certain members of the Senate had no intention of backing the amendment but were reluctant to appear unsupportive of our troops on Veterans Day, of all days.
If President Bush really wants to honor the men and women fighting this war — and dying like my brother — then he should call on Congress to eliminate the widow's tax. It's the least he can do.
Dan Shea is a lawyer for an insurance company.

Link to NYT article.


ENDING THE WIDOW’S TAX
By Gen. Wesley K. Clark US Army Ret.
2/13/06

I was proud to join House Leaders Nancy Pelosi, Ike Skelton, Lane Evans, and John Salazar last year on Capitol Hill to unveil the new GI Bill of Rights for the 21st Century, legislation designed to improve benefits for our soldiers and their families today, while providing long overdue benefits for our veterans and military retirees.

We recognized that something needed to be done to eliminate the "widow's tax," which penalizes the survivors of those killed in combat by reducing the benefits to which they are entitled.

Unfortunately, the one-party Congress has chosen to pursue their own agenda -- focusing on making the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans permanent. As for the "widow's tax?" An amendment to repeal it was removed from the latest defense authorization bill by the Republican Congressional leadership.

It's just wrong, and it's bad for military readiness. This is not the time for politics. This is not the time for special interest haggling and pork barrel politics. If we are going to maintain the best volunteer, professional army in the world, we must provide soldiers with the peace of mind that comes from knowing the rest of us will take up for their families if they are killed. How can we expect good, qualified people to remain in military service? It is our duty, as a grateful nation, to stand up for our veterans and their families.

Send a letter to President Bush and your Members of Congress, and urge them to end the "widow's tax" today.

I want to share with you the story of Dan Shea, a member of our WesPAC community. Dan's brother, Lt. Col. Kevin Shea, was killed in Falluja on September 14, 2004. Like many soldiers, Kevin believed the government would take care of his wife Amy and their two children if anything should happen to him. But because of the "widow's tax," this is not the case.

A widow of a service member killed in the line of duty is supported by the survivors' plan paid by the Department of Defense and a dependent's compensation paid by the Department of Veterans Affairs. But under the current law, the payment from the Defense Department is reduced dollar for dollar by the Veterans Administration's payment: The "widow's tax."

I invite you to read Dan's op-ed in today's New York Times on how the "widow's tax" is hurting his family.

And then please, contact President Bush and your Members of Congress. Tell them to end the "widow's tax" today.

I leave you with Dan's own words from the conclusion of his op-ed:

"If President Bush really wants to honor the men and women fighting this war -- and dying like my brother -- then he should call on Congress to eliminate the "widow's tax." It's the least he can do."

Sincerely,

Wes Clark



Send a letter to President Bush and your members of Congress and urge them to end the "Widow's Tax" today.

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