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Senator seeks expansion of survivor benefits

Apr. 16, 2013 - 02:53PM   |  
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The new chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee believes many military survivors are struggling financially and is making a priority of improving their benefits.

About 350,000 surviving spouses and minor children receive survivor benefits from the Veterans Affairs Department, but 44 percent of the spouses are living on incomes of less than $20,000 a year, according to the committee.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who became committee chairman earlier this year, said that’s not good enough.

“Low-income survivors are at a disadvantage when it comes to re-establishing stability for their families, but their challenges are shared by survivors of all income levels,” Sanders said in a statement. “Men and women who gave their lives in war or as a result of service to this country have left behind loved ones who deserve a grateful nation’s support.”

He is proposing the Survivor Benefit Improvement Act of 2013, a measure that would expand federal benefits at a time when most people in Congress are looking for ways to cut spending.

The bill would:

• Provide grief counseling in retreat settings to survivors whose spouses died while on active duty. Child care would be included.

• Change remarriage rules so that survivors who remarry can continue receiving benefits under the same rules that apply to other federal benefits. Current rules cancel benefits for a spouse who remarries before age 57, but allow benefits to be restarted if the marriage ends. The bill would change the age to 55.

• Extends supplemental payments to survivors with children for five years after the veteran’s death instead of the current two.

• Expands benefits for children with Agent Orange-related spina bifida to include those whose parent or parents served in Thailand. Current benefits are limited to children of Vietnam veterans.

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