Veterans Disability Info Blog

If Your Spouse Dies Serving Your Country, You Could Be Penalized for Remarrying

As the current rules stand, surviving spouses of deceased service members and veterans who remarry before the age of 55 may encounter unexpected adverse consequences. Gold Star survivors can suddenly find themselves ineligible for benefits such as the Department of Veterans AffairsDependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) and the Defense Department’s Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP). But a bipartisan Congressional bill hopes to change that. If the bill that senators are trying to push forward becomes law, remarrying – regardless of your age – would not affect those benefits.GOP Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas – a ranking member oftheSenate Veterans Affairs Committee − is collaborating with Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia to eliminate the age restriction. Co-sponsors of this most recent bill, called The Love Lives on Act,  include Senators Tom Cotton, Elizabeth Warren, and Mazie Hirono.

An Ongoing Battle for Benefits

For years concerns have been raised about the age rules, by both members of the military and their legal advocates. In 2021, lawmakers agreed to lower the age at which surviving spouses could remarry without losing benefits to 55 from 57. But that was of little consolation to younger spouses, and there are many younger Gold Star spouses as a result of recent prolonged wars and expansions of the military. In fact, by removing the age restriction the proposed bill could potentially have a life-changing impact on an estimated 65,000 spouses who now receive DIC. That’s based on the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) data.

Confronting Difficult Choices

The TAPS organization advocates for military families and strongly supports legislation to remove the remarriage restriction. Their Deputy Director for Government and Legislative Affairs pointed out at a recent Veterans Affairs Committee meeting that many of today’s surviving spouses were widowed in their 20s and 30s. Expecting them to wait another 20 or 30 years to remarry seems unreasonable today, and in light of the sacrifices they and their families have already made on behalf of their country. But without a change in the rules, many of them are forced to choose between economic stability and personal freedom of choice. TAPS reports that more than 95 percent of surviving spouses younger than 55 have decided not to remarry, and they often base that decision on the effect on DIC and SBP benefits. Under the proposed change, survivors will retain those benefits no matter their age.

Survivor Benefit Program Benefits

The Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) allows a retiree to ensure, after death, a continuous lifetime annuity for their dependents. The annuity, which is based on a percentage of one’s military pay upon retirement, is paid to eligible survivors as an inflation-adjusted monthly income. But if you are married and decline SBP at retirement, you will not be eligible to cover that spouse later, or cover a new spouse should you divorce and remarry. The proposed Love Lives on Act would additionally provide certain types of commissary and exchange privileges and educational benefits, and would let surviving spouses maintain Tricare coverage – which is the military’s healthcare plan – if the remarriage ends in death, divorce, or annulment.

DIC Benefits

Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) is a monthly benefit paid to eligible survivors of a military service member who died while on active duty, or Veterans who died from a service-connected injury or disease. In 2023, the DIC rates paid to surviving spouses typically exceeded $1,550 a month. DIC may also apply to those who died from an injury or disease that was not service related, but where the Veteran was entitled to receive compensation from the VA for a service-connected disability rated at 100 percent for at least 10 years prior to death. There are also DIC eligibility rules that are applicable to survivors of deceased former POWs.

The Bottom Line

The specific rules of eligibility for all these survivor benefits may be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and are rather complicated. But they can be viewed on the Veteran’s Administration website – or by consulting a disabled veteran lawyer who specializes in representing Veterans and active-duty service members to help ensure they get the benefits they’ve earned. If you advocate for the end to age restrictions on benefits, you can contact your local, state, and U.S. lawmakers and urge them to pass the Love Lives on Act.

We are Here to Help

If you are having trouble obtaining benefits, contact us online or at 888.878.9350 to discuss your case.