Representative TJ Cox Introduces Bill to Expand Veterans Survivor Benefits

May 20, 2020
Press Release
Caring for Survivors Act of 2020 brings benefit rules in line with other federal retirement programs

Today, Representative TJ Cox (D-CA-21) along with Reps. Gil Cisneros (D-CA-39)Ted Yoho (R-FL-3)Jeff Van Drew (R-NJ-2) and Jahana Hayes (D-CT-5) introduced the Caring for Survivors Act of 2020. The act would increase dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC) for surviving dependents and lower the threshold of eligibility to allow certain survivors to receive this benefit who currently do not meet the requirements. 

The rate of compensation paid to survivors of service members who die in the line of duty or veterans who die from service-related injuries or diseases was set in 1993 and has been minimally adjusted since then. The DIC also has rules that can drastically decrease the benefits survivors receive if they remarry or if the period the veteran was disabled before their death was less than 10 years. Other federal survivor programs do not have such stringent rules for decreasing or withholding survivor benefits. The bill would make more surviving dependents of servicemembers eligible for DIC by; 

  • Reducing the age allowed for a surviving spouse to remarry and maintain their benefits from 57 to 55, consistent with other Federal survivor programs,  
  • Increasing the DIC base rate to 55% of the rate of compensation paid to a totally disabled veteran, and  
  • Easing the 10-year rule for eligibility and replace it with a graduated scale of benefits that begins after five years and increases by percentage until reaching full amount at the 10-year mark.  

The intent of the current law is to provide DIC benefits for surviving spouses and minor children based on the length and severity of the veteran’s total disability rating. The financial status of surviving spouses, many who act as primary caregivers, can be limited for those who put their careers on hold to care for the veteran. The requirement of 10 years seems arbitrary given the severity of many disabilities and the impact on veterans and their families. 

“Thousands of families of veterans are being denied the benefits their loved ones earned while serving our country. I think our veterans survivor benefits should be at least as generous as the same benefits in other federal agencies and in the private sector, so I am proposing some simple changes to the current system that will make these benefits fairer and available to more surviving families,” said Rep. Cox. “We need to do whatever we can to make sure we take care of our veterans and their families.” 

“Our current law prevents many families of veterans from accessing critical benefits. The bipartisan Caring for Survivors Act of 2020 fixes this problem and puts the rules on veteran’s survivors benefits on the same footing with other federal retirement programs,” said Rep. Cisneros. “This is the least we can do for our nation’s heroes and their families. As a Navy Veteran, I’m committed to being a voice for our servicemembers, veterans, and their families and will always fight to get them the benefits they have earned.” 

“The families of the brave men and women who sacrificed and served our nation, with some making the ultimate sacrifice in defense of America, need to be taken care of. The freedom and liberty we enjoy every day was paid for by our veterans and their selfless service. I am proud to join Rep. Cox and my other colleagues in a bipartisan effort to do what is right to provide benefits to our nation’s veterans and their families,” said Rep. Yoho.  

“We must ensure that we honor our warriors by providing for their loved ones when they no longer can,” said Rep. Van Drew. “This is a positive change that will provide even-handed support for those families at their times of need.” 

“In speaking with veterans across my district, one of the biggest issues that I hear about is the need for improvements to the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) benefit at the VA,” said Rep. Hayes. “The death of a service member should never lead a family to financial hardship, and we owe it to these heroes to give their families the full benefits they have earned. It has been far too long since these benefits have been adequately adjusted. DIC must be brought in line with other federal benefits, and must compliment the times that we are living in. I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle on this important issue.” 

This legislation also has the support of the Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. 

“I agree with the Caring for Survivors Act of 2020 because I would like for my family to have a backup plan in the case of my untimely death,” said Danny Rueda, Post Commander for VFW Post 6742. “I also agree with this act because I’m currently seeking to receive my full 100% claim for the Veteran Affairs, and this act would benefit my family since I am currently only receiving 10% of my claim.” 

WATCH: Online Press Conference with Reps. Cox and Cisneros, and representatives from the Paralyzed Veterans of America, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, and Disabled American Veterans

Read the full bill text here