Three proposals were added on July 9th to the annual defense authorization bill, while it was on the floor of the House of Representatives. The three provisions: ending the so-called “Widow’s Tax”; repealing the Feres Doctrine, which precluded military service members from suing the government for malpractice; and increasing the number of special visas for Afghan War allies, caused quite the debate.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were at odds over spending levels and with over 400 total amendments to debate, there were several potential poison pills that could have derailed the bill’s chance of passage.
On Friday, July 12th, the House passed its version of the annual defense authorization bill by a 220-197 vote, mostly along party lines. The House and Senate will now take the rest of the summer and likely part of the fall to negotiate a compromise package for both chambers.
The widow’s tax revolves around how two separate veteran survivor payout programs are treated by the government. The Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) program awards approximately $15,000 a year to either survivors of veterans or veterans who died of service-related causes. There is no cost to family members or veterans to enroll. The Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) provides families of veterans, who enroll, up to 55 percent of the veteran’s retirement pay after the veteran dies. These life insurance-type payouts are subsidized by the Department of Defense, but require those who enroll to pay-in part of their retirement benefit to be eligible.
Individuals who qualify for either DIC veteran benefits or SBP payments, receive full payouts from the respective programs. However, if family members qualify for both, they are subject to an offset, in which every dollar paid in DIC benefits reduces the payments under SBP by the same amount.
Families relying on these payments can lose up to $1,000 a month in veterans benefits. Advocates insist the families of these veterans deserve to be fully compensated and lawmakers have provided special payouts to counter some of the lost money, but advocates have pushed for a full fix.
The ban on malpractice lawsuits is derived from the Feres Doctrine, a 1950 Supreme Court decision that precluded troops from claiming medical damages for actions related to their military service. At the time, the court found that military personnel injured by the negligence of another federal employee cannot sue under the Federal Tort Claims Act.
Legislation was introduced that would allow for limited exemptions, permitting lawsuits against the Defense Department by veterans and their families in cases of extreme medical neglect or abuse.
These provisions would not be applicable to injuries sustained in combat and would only apply to mistakes that occurred at military clinics or hospitals. Medical treatment received at battalion aid stations or onboard vessels would be excluded.
Impact to Veterans Benefits from the bill are:
• Repeal of the “Widow’s Tax” to allow Gold Star spouses access to both sets of survivor veteran benefits for which they are eligible; thereby preventing them from being stripped of thousands of dollars annually.
• Repeal of the Feres Doctrine, which blocks military service members and veterans from suing the federal government for medical malpractice.
• Provide $2.5 million increase to combat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
• Several measures to study effects of burn pits.
• Require DoD/VA to study the impact of withholding disability pay from veterans who receive separation pay.
• Allow Gold Star spouses to end leases of service members catastrophically injured, sickened or killed in military service.
• Require DoD/VA to demonstrate implementation of the electronic health record system.
• Require DoD/VA to report to Congress on providing financial literacy education to separating troops and veterans.
• Improve tracking of non-citizen veterans honorably discharged from military service, intended to prevent unnecessary ICE deportations.
The Injured Veterans legal team at Gordon & Partners is here for military veterans and their families. Please contact us immediately, if you are having difficulty with your claim or you are not receiving the disability benefits to which you are entitled. Call us at 1-888-231-9144 or fill out the form on this website.
Read the full story here: https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2019/07/10/widows-tax-block-on-military-malpractice-lawsuits-would-be-repealed-in-house-defense-bill/