When a veteran dies, a surviving spouse is offered education, health insurance and on-base benefits. But a spouse who remarries before age 55 loses eligibility. This age limit was reduced from 57 in 2021, and a number of bills have proposed removing the clause entirely.
Understanding recent changes in benefits
As a surviving spouse of a military member, you have the potential to receive up to 55 percent of the service member’s retirement pay, called the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP).
Additionally, you may be eligible for the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC), which is for: survivors of military members who died on active duty, veterans whose death was the result of a service-related injury or disease, or veterans whose death wasn’t related to service but who received VA disability compensation.
Recently, the government enacted changes to the plans that had caused a reduction in SBP payments, if you were also receiving DIC from the VA. However, starting Feb. 1, 2023, that reduction is being eliminated, according to the Department of Defense.
This three-year phaseout of the so-called widow’s tax had caused widows to forfeit a dollar of SBP for each dollar of DIC they received if they also received Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance (SSIA). This continues throughout your life.
Since Jan. 3, the SSIA is no longer being paid because it only applied to spouses who had their SBP payment offset by DIC.
Determining when to remarry as a military widow
Peter Glennon, a business and employment attorney who handles divorces and is a 24-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force and New York Air National Guard, recommends that those marrying again in their 50s pay extra attention, if they’ve been married to a veteran who was disabled or killed.
“They may have benefits that this marriage could impact,” he says. “They may have continued health insurance and may be receiving an additional payment if there was a pension or disability/death benefit.”
A new marriage before age 55 (reduced from 57 in 2021) can trigger a loss of health insurance. Glennon recounted the case of a woman who “lost thousands of dollars” in this situation. To retain your benefits, you have to have been remarried on or after either:
- Dec. 16, 2003, and were 57 years of age or older at the time you remarried.
- Jan. 5, 2021, and you were 55 or older at the time you remarried.
This can prompt some couples to choose to wait a few years to pass this age limit before marrying. Check out recent changes. Unfortunately, the changes aren’t retroactive, so if you did marry between 55 and 57, before the rule changed, the update won’t help you.
If the new marriage ends in the death of the new spouse or divorce, benefits can be reinstated. Military Officers Association of America recommends widows contact the Defense Finance Accounting Service, Coast Guard pay agencies or the VA.
Alexandra Frost is a Cincinnati-based journalist, content marketing writer, copywriter and editor. The granddaughter of a veteran, her work has been published in the Washington Post and Reader’s Digest. You can learn more about her at https://www.alexandra-frost.com.