Shared with permission from www.naela.org
It’s time to start giving veterans and their families equal rights to plan for their loved ones.
During this past Memorial Day weekend, I found it ironic to be working on materials in support of legislation to improve estate planning options for the families of United States armed services members that include children with permanent disabilities. Why ironic? Because in the middle of a weekend filled with ceremonies, parades, pomp and circumstance honoring our fallen service members, a simple and necessary improvement for these families remains on hold.
America’s Veterans Deserve the Same Estate Planning Choices Other Americans Enjoy
I refer to the fact that, unlike most citizens, service members are not permitted to roll their survivor benefits into a special needs trust for the benefit of their child with a disability. This means that the loved one with special needs must be the direct beneficiary of the benefits (annuity) the military member earned in service. The unfortunate result is that the loved one will likely lose eligibility for means-tested government benefits that are central to her or his survival and independence.
The benefit of the special needs trust is that it allows the individual with disabilities to have supplemental funds to pay for their living needs not covered by their government benefits, such as extra support services, equipment, clothing, co-payments, transportation, recreation, and the like. Because these funds are in the special needs trust, they do not disqualify the individual for government benefits.
There Is a Way to Fix This Inequity
On May 23, 2103, Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) introduced S.1076, the Disabled Military Child Protection Act of 2013, which provides for the payment of monthly annuities under the Survivor Benefit Plan to a special needs trust for a veteran’s child with a disability. Congressman Jim Moran (D-8th, VA) introduced the same bill in the U.S. House of Representatives on June 4, 2013. Many members of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) and the Special Needs Alliance lobbied for support of this legislation during a joint “Hill Day” event in April 2013. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) added the Disabled Military Child Protection Act language to the markup package for the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) (S.1197). The Senate Armed Services Committee voted and approved the NDAA with the Disabled Military Child Protection Act language. This language was not included in the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 1960), so once the full Senate approves the bill and this provision, it will need to be addressed during the conference committee.
The legislation amends the rules for beneficiary payments of military annuities for deceased veterans to allow the annuity to go into a disabled child’s special needs trust. As appropriate, simple, and cost effective as this bill is, there will need to be bipartisan support for this bill to become law. Thus far, I am pleased to say that has been the case, but more cosponsors of the bills can help build momentum.
Take Action Now
Please contact your congressional representatives and urge their support of this legislation. Make sure that they understand that this one small action will speak volumes and allow military families to plan for their loved ones just like any other citizen of our great nation.
This legislation has broad support from many groups and coalitions such as NAELA, American Bar Association, Special Needs Alliance, the Military Coalition, Easter Seals, Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), and the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities.
Read more about the Disabled Military Child Protection Act on the NAELA website.
If we are going to treat our veterans and their families differently than the rest of our citizens, I suggest they should be treated better. Our actions must be consistent with our words, so let’s make this happen!
About the Author
Patricia E. Kefalas Dudek, CAP, is a member of the NAELA Board of Directors. She is the principal of Patricia E. Kefalas Dudek & Associates, Farmington Hills, Mich., and the Past Chair of the Elder Law and Disability Rights Section of the State Bar of Michigan. Her practice concentrates in Elder Law, Medicaid, estate planning, estates/trust administration, probate, administrative law, and disability advocacy.