Members of a military officers group will lobby U.S. lawmakers next week to preserve a survivor benefit.
The Military Officers Association of America, an advocacy group based in Alexandria, Virginia, plans to send about 160 representatives to Capitol Hill on April 13 to also argue against proposed Tricare fee hikes and for fixing challenges in accessing heath care services.
"In the past we've gotten a lot of traction by sending letters, but we do find that it is compounded by actually informed constituents in the office of the legislators to reinforce the points we are trying to make," said Steve Strobridge, the organization's director of government relations.
At the top of the list of concerns is a proposal that would all but eliminate the value of the Survivor Benefit Plan. The plan a life insurance policy troops can purchase at the time of their retirement and the monthly payment is automatically given to spouses of those who die while on active duty.
If a service member dies while on active duty or a retiree dies of a service-connected condition, their survivors also qualify for dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC). But due to a decades-old law that bars survivors from receiving both payments, the SBP is reduced dollar-for-dollar by the amount of DIC, known as the "widow tax."
A temporary measure passed by Congress set to expire in 2017 allows survivors to receive a partial rebate to make up for that loss.
MOAA officials said they want Congress to, at a minimum, extend that measure past next year so military survivors don't see a payment reduction. But ideally, they said, lawmakers would move to repeal the offset law entirely.
"In an ideal world we'd persuade congress to find the money to eliminate the SBP/DIC offset," Strobridge said.
Also on the group's lobbying day docket is a request that lawmakers reject a series of Defense Department Tricare proposals that would hurt retirees by increasing prices.
Currently, retirees using Tricare Prime pay $282.60 per year for a single person or $565.20 for a family, while Standard requires no enrollment fee. The proposed system, however, would require retirees pay an up to $900 annual enrollment fee for families.
Strobridge said his organization is looking for lawmakers to push through Tricare reforms that ease access to care and referrals among other things before instituting any price increases.
"On the healthcare side we'd like to win Congress' support that before we start raising fees significantly we should fix the problems that are documented," he said.