Promises, Promises: War widows’ futile fight

By Kimberly Hefling, Associated Press
Mideast edition, Friday, February 12, 2010

WASHINGTON (AP) — For a decade, war widows in matching yellow suit jackets and hats quietly and persistently have knocked on Capitol Hill doors seeking an end to the “widows’ tax,” a government policy that deprives them of benefits from their husbands’ military service.  They are always warmly received, but that’s where the hospitality ends. Despite pledges of help from scores of federal officials — including President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — their long quest remains unfulfilled.  Every year since 2005, the Senate has voted to eliminate the policy that denies widows the ability to collect both a military survivor’s benefit and the full annuity bought when their military husbands were alive. But in each of those years, the fix was dropped when House and Senate negotiators wrote the final bill in private.  “What we always hear is that there is just no funding for us. ‘Sorry, this is not your year,'” said Vivianne Wersel, chairwoman of the Government Relations Committee at Gold Star Wives of America. Her husband died of a heart attack in 2005, days after returning from his second tour in Iraq. “What happens behind closed doors, we get thrown under the bus.” The widows’ tax is a law that won’t allow surviving spouses to receive the retirement pay due them when their spouse died from a cause related to military service, and at the same time collect the full annuity — essentially an insurance policy most of their spouses opted to buy. They paid an average of 6.5 percent of their retirement pay in premiums, often $100 or more a month. Because one benefit is subtracted from the other, affected surviving spouses lose about $1,000 a month on average. There are about 54,000 survivors who are affected by the policy, whose spouses served in conflicts from World War II to Afghanistan, and that number could grow. The widows say politicians have promised time and time again to help them, but they don’t.  read more

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