July 24, 2009

Senate Passes Bill to Authorize Military Funding for 2010

Measure Includes Whitehouse Supported Amendments on Early Retirement and Benefits for Military Spouses

Washington, D.C. – The U.S. Senate passed legislation extending a number of benefits to our nation’s veterans, including a provision granting early retirement eligibility to Reservists and National Guard members who have served on active duty since September 11th, and a measure to repeal the “widow’s tax,” which reduces the amount of survivor benefits military spouses can collect after the service member’s death.

These measures, cosponsored by U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), were included in a bill authorizing funding for the military for Fiscal Year 2010.

“I have heard firsthand from our National Guard members and Reservists and their families about the challenges they have faced and the sacrifices they have made on behalf of our country since 9/11,” said Whitehouse. “Their enormous contributions deserve proper recognition and providing them with early retirement eligibility based on their service to the country after that date is a good way to show our appreciation for all they have done for us.”

Last year, during a community dinner in Bristol, RI, Whitehouse heard from Colonel Edward Cyr about an inequity in 2008 legislation that provided active duty National Guard members and Reservists eligibility for early retirement. Cyr, a 29-year veteran of the Army Reserves who served two tours in Iraq and was deployed to Kosovo in 2001, was concerned that the legislation only counted service after January 28, 2008, the date of enactment of the legislation. Cyr explained that the new law did not cover the period of service between September 11, 2001, and its enactment date, leaving out many veterans who made enormous contributions. Whitehouse agreed to help Cyr with the issue, and cosponsored an amendment successfully included in yesterday’s bill to correct this problem.

Whitehouse had also heard from Rhode Islanders about the problems caused by the “widow’s tax” on military spouses. Many military servicemembers pay into the Department of Defense Survivor Benefit Plan as a way to ensure spousal benefits after the servicemember’s death. Currently, the amount a surviving spouse can collect under the plan is offset by the amount of the spouse’s VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation. An amendment passed as part of the defense bill will allow military spouses to collect the full amount of their Survivor Benefit Plan. Whitehouse cosponsored similar legislation earlier this year.

Whitehouse also cosponsored successful amendments to the defense bill to provide Federal assistance to States, local jurisdictions, and Indian tribes to prosecute hate crimes, and to alleviate financial pressures on Rhode Island and other individual states by increasing Department of Defense cost sharing for the National Guard Youth Challenge Program.


Press Contact

Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921