(CN) – Three remarried widows of Army veterans and military retirees can collect the full amount of death benefits from the U.S. government, the Federal Circuit ruled, because each remarried after the age of 57.
The underlying lawsuit involved two benefit programs: the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) and the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation payments (DIC).
SBP works like insurance, allowing servicemen and retirees to have premiums deducted from their pay in order to provide their spouses with death benefits. DIC benefits are automatically paid to surviving spouses of veterans who died while on active duty or because of a service-related disability.
Before 2003, surviving spouses couldn’t keep receiving DIC after they remarried. But Congress partially eliminated this restriction with the Veterans Benefits Act of 2003, which reinstated DIC benefits to surviving spouses who remarried after age 57. The law also assured remarried spouses that their DIC benefits wouldn’t decrease if they received other benefits.
However, the SBP program contained an offset provision stating just the opposite: SBP payments would be reduced by how much a surviving spouse received in DIC payments.
Patricia Sharp, Margaret Haverkamp and Iva Rogers challenged this offset provision as a violation of the Veterans Benefits Act.
The Court of Federal Claims ruled for the plaintiffs, and the Washington, D.C.-based appeals court affirmed.
Judge Mayer said the plain language of the Act “unambiguously precludes the DIC-SBP offset.”