More than two months have elapsed off military retirees' one-time, yearlong Survivor Benefit Plan second chance at enrollment, and the Defense Department still hasn't provided a way to do it.
The open enrollment period, a rare event for the program ordered by Congress, began Dec. 23, 2022, when President Joe Biden signed the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act. The open season ends Jan. 1, 2024. It gives those who opted out of the SBP program in the past another chance to buy in, while others who had opted in and now want to leave can discontinue their coverage.
Through the program, retirees contribute a percentage of their retirement pay to the SPB life insurance. After the retiree dies, a beneficiary receives up to 55% of the retiree's monthly retirement pay, adjusted for inflation, for the rest of the surviving spouse's life or until a child reaches an age cap.
Those who enroll during the open season will have to catch up on paying the premiums they will have missed since retiring, plus pay interest and "any additional amount" deemed necessary to maintain the "soundness" of the Defense Department's retirement fund, according to the new law.
A spokesperson for the office of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin originally told Military.com on Jan. 13 that the enrollment "forms and instructions" would be posted online "by February."
The department hadn't responded, by press time, to questions sent, starting Feb. 21, about the status of the forms.
With limited exceptions, veterans usually have to make their SBP election when they retire. The open enrollment coincides with a law change eliminating the so-called "Widow's Tax," known officially as the Survivor Benefit Plan Offset, which had penalized beneficiaries who received both SBP and the Department of Veterans Affairs' Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) benefits at the same time.
What if I Want to Discontinue Coverage?
Retirees who contributed to the Survivor Benefit Plan in the past but now want to discontinue are in a better position than those who want to opt in. The Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) has posted the "SBP Open Season 2023 Discontinuance Form -- Provisional" on its webpage dedicated to the open season.
-- Amanda Miller can be reached at email@example.com.