Fix federal law that dishonors those killed in battle

Rick Christie was killed in 2003. His widow is at risk of not receiving all of the payments stemming from his death.
Rick Christie was killed in 2003. His widow is at risk of not receiving all of the payments stemming from his death.

As both a military veteran and military widow, I would like to make two points about Memorial Day. First, while it’s never inappropriate to thank veterans for their service, Memorial Day is the day set aside to honor those who died in service to their country. (All veterans — both living and dead — are honored on November 11th, Veterans Day.) So when a well-intentioned citizen offers a “Happy Memorial Day!” greeting to a veteran, they should know Memorial Day is probably not a happy day for vets. Most have lost friends and comrades, and steadfastly keep that day sacred in their memory. Which brings me to my second point.

Legislation has languished in Congress for nearly 18 years that truly would honor nearly 65,000 “Memorial Day” service members. Instead, their widows are left holding the empty bag of denied benefits their husbands earned and paid for.

Incomprehensibly, federal law requires a one-dollar deduction from monthly Survivor Benefit Plan annuity payments for every paid dollar of Dependency and Indemnity Compensation — an unrelated program. In civilian terms, it’s analogous to an insurance company saying, “I know your spouse responsibly provided for your financial security by paying premiums on this annuity policy for decades. But since you also have money coming in from a wrongful death settlement, we’re going to reduce your contractual annuity payments by the amount of that settlement.”

In the civilian world, this would be a slam dunk lawsuit; in Washington, D.C., it distinguishes these military widows as the only federal annuitants whose annuity payments are offset. More than 60 percent of them lose every penny of that annuity as a result. The “policy holder” is no longer around to fight for denied benefits, so the battle falls to the annuitants — the bulk of whom are between 68 and 86 years old.

So this year, I encourage all concerned citizens to contact members of Congress and insist this injustice be corrected. Nothing says “gratitude” more than honoring those who died as a result of serving all Americans. To their credit, both Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis have cosponsored the Senate version of the bill (S.339). And most North Carolina representatives have cosponsored the House version (H.R.846). (Exceptions: Virginia Foxx, Mark Walker and Patrick McHenry.) In South Carolina, Sen. Tim Scott is a cosponsor of the Senate bill; Sen. Lindsey Graham is not. (South Carolina House non-supporters are Mark Sanford, Trey Gowdy, James Clyburn and Tom Rice.)

Across both houses of Congress, 147 Democrats and 159 Republicans have signed on to these measures, making the issue truly bipartisan. Yet, despite the relatively small amount of money needed to fund these bills, there is little hope of passage again this year.

I am reminded of Abraham Lincoln’s words: “Let us care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan.” It’s well past time for Congress to correct this betrayal of good faith assurances made to those who served, and died as a result of that service.

Christie is a lieutenant colonel, USAF (Retired) and lives in Charlotte. Her husband, Marine Corps Colonel Rick Christie, died in 2003.