Warnock bill would allow surviving military spouses to remarry, retain benefits
Shalan Webb’s husband, Christopher, had served nearly 10 years in the military when he was killed by an IED in Iraq in 2007, leaving her to raise their 6-month-old daughter.
“I just remember him saying, ‘I have so many stories to tell you when I get home,'” she said. “I never heard all of his stories.”
Over the years, Webb found a community with other surviving spouses and made a new life for himself. The benefits she received as a surviving spouse paid for a master’s degree in museum professions – a degree she still uses as a museum collections specialist for the JIA’s historical division on Jekyll Island in Brunswick. , Georgia.
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“It was like a miracle, I mean, to have those benefits and to be able to do something that I really love and also to set a really good example for my daughter that despite life’s challenges, you can… make your dreams come true,” says Webb.
If she remarried before age 55, she would have lost all her benefits.
“I didn’t remarry, not for any other reason than I didn’t meet the right person,” she said. “But I had a child, we had a child, a little girl who was 6 months old when her father was killed, and that’s definitely something I’ve thought about a lot in terms of remarriage. … I always thought the limitation on remarriage, waiting until we were 55, was kind of ridiculous.”
Webb is one of approximately 700 surviving military spouses in Georgia, according to the Tragedy Survivor Assistance Program, an organization for surviving spouses. Webb connected with TAPS after Christopher’s death and met other spouses in similar situations. Some of his friends remarried and lost the benefits. Others lived with new partners without marrying to avoid losing the benefits.
“The opportunity to move forward”
Last week, the senses. Raphael Warnock and Jerry Moran, a Republican senator from Kansas, introduced the “Love Lives On Act,” a law that would allow surviving military spouses to retain their benefits after remarriage.
“One of the things we hear over and over again from our surviving spouses is that they really should have the opportunity to move forward in their lives, that their service member has earned those benefits, and those are benefits that ‘they also won as a military spouse,’ said Candace Wheeler, director of government and legislative affairs for TAPS. “Often it is difficult for military spouses to enroll in a retirement savings or survivor’s plan, and so often their retirement is tied to their service member’s retirement. And what is a survivor benefit plan? …it’s a replacement for that retirement if that serviceman dies because of his connection to military service.”
These benefits are significant: $1,400 per month for a surviving spouse plus $250 per child up to age 18, education benefits equivalent to the GI Bill for spouse and children, health care and access to bases and commissars.
“If you’re a firefighter or a police officer, your survivors can remarry before age 55, at any age,” Wheeler said. “And that’s what we’re asking, that those are benefits that have been earned.”
According to Ashlynne Haycock-Lohmann, assistant director of government and legislative affairs for TAPS, the average age of a surviving spouse is 25, which means they must wait 30 years to remarry or lose their benefits.
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After working with Warnock last year on another Gold Star family bill, TAPS approached him about remarriage, Haycock-Lohmann said, and Warnock was interested.
“One in 10 Georgians is somehow connected to our military, and I can tell you that we move around our entire state, those military guys are the best of us,” Warnock told USA Today. “But here’s the thing, they’re not the only ones serving. Their families are serving, often moving from place to place, in order to support their servicemen’s military service.
“Thus, this bill will ensure that the surviving spouses of people who have lost their lives defending us will maintain their benefits even as their lives move forward.”
“Beyond the Finish Line”
Warnock said he hopes the bill will be introduced as an amendment to this year’s National Defense Authorization Act.
“Hopefully we will cross the finish line by the end of the year,” he said.
TAPS reports that there are 75,000 surviving spouses under age 65 in the United States. The legislation received a Congressional Budget Office estimate of $2 billion over 10 years.
The legislation received not only bipartisan support, but also the backing of about 30 veterans’ organizations, according to Haycock-Lohmann. As for Webb, she fully supports the legislation.
“I really hope it passes for good, and I wish they had done it a lot sooner,” she said. “But later is better than never.”