Military widows set to finally receive survivor benefits after 18-year effort

WASHINGTON – A bipartisan defense bill moving through Congress includes benefits that thousands of military families have been waiting for.

The bill means more than 65,000 surviving military spouses will receive benefits they’ve earned after decades of waiting.

“They now know people truly care,” Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) said.

Sen. Jones helped get what’s called the “Military Widows Tax” repealed as part of this year’s National Defense Authorization Act. Sen. Jones – with the help of Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) – eliminated a provision that prevented Gold Star families from receiving full survivor benefits from the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs.

“It has just been one of the most unfair programs that the United States has had that has been hoisted on military families,” he said.

The bipartisan step marks an 18-year effort to pass the bill on Capitol Hill. Washington Correspondent Kellie Meyer asked why it took so long to go through.

“I think it’s been a budget issue,” Sen. Jones said. “You know, a lot of times, people up here, they tend to look at dollars and cents more than they do right or wrong.”

Jones says this year was different. Nearly 80 senators co-sponsored the bill.

The changes will be phased in over the next three years. Jones says that means about an additional $12,000 per year for about 2,000 spouses in his home state of Alabama.

For military spouses, that help can’t come soon enough.

“They had worked on this for so long and they thought the country was just ignoring their pleas,” Sen. Jones said.

The NDAA passed the House just this week. It’s expected to pass the Senate before lawmakers break for the holiday recess.