Mideast edition, Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Dual-military couples and married reservists could owe the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as much as $25 million in unpaid life insurance premiums, according to the Defense Department.

Though some military personnel might have been racking up debts related to the unpaid premiums for years, DOD only recently directed all services to identify those who owe so it could collect the unpaid debts.

However, individuals who have been either knowingly or unknowingly enrolled in Family Servicemembers Group Life Insurance, which provides coverage for military spouses in all branches of the service, could owe the VA as much as $3,536. This number is based on a servicemember paying the highest premium of $54 for $100,000 coverage from November 2001 to June 2006. The premium dropped to $52 a month in July 2006.

Servicemembers who haven’t paid their FSGLI premiums are likely to have to pay the debt in full unless they can prove they requested to cancel FSGLI coverage in the past.

Chances are that those who owe aren’t aware of their debt or even that they’re enrolled in the program, according to numerous articles in various military publications going back at least to 2004.

Recent analyses by the VA and the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, which manages troops’ pay, indicate “that a number of service members are receiving FSGLI coverage but are not paying premiums as required,” according to an internal Army memo, ALARACT 040/2007, which was distributed across the service and dated to the month of March.

The “situation,” according to the memo, is almost entirely due to incomplete documentation of servicemembers’ marital status in a single database, known as the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System, or DEERS.

Enrollment in the FSGLI program has been automatic for all married troops and troops with children since November 2001, according to the VA — including those who married and have since divorced. The VA purchased life insurance on troops’ behalf based on data in the DEERS database, however, troops may not have known they were enrolled or that they were liable to pay the premiums. Troops who wanted out of the program had to file paperwork to opt out.

But while enrollment has been automatic, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service hasn’t collected premiums from many troops married to other servicemembers and reservists called to active duty because of incomplete or incorrect data in DEERS.

Servicemembers who marry civilians have to register their spouses in DEERS in order for them to get military benefits and identification cards. Servicemembers who marry other servicemembers, however, “would not normally do that,” Air Force Col. S. Virginia Penrod, a previous director of military compensation in the office of the secretary of defense, told the House of Representatives’ Committee on Veterans’ Affairs during a hearing in 2005.

That’s because servicemembers are automatically enrolled in DEERS.

A DOD regulation was changed in 2002 to require troops married to troops to enroll each other in DEERS, but many — exactly how many isn’t clear — neglected to do that, according to the Army memo.

Servicemembers who had their spouses properly enrolled in DEERS have had premiums — ranging from $5.50 a month to $52 a month for the maximum $100,000 of coverage — deducted from their pay every month, and that charge has shown up on their monthly pay statements.

But those who haven’t enrolled their spouses in DEERS haven’t seen the money come out of their pay, and nothing to indicate their enrollment in FSGLI has been printed on their pay statements.

About the debts

Servicemembers apparently have until early July to have their Family Servicemembers Group Life Insurance debt waived. They must request a waiver/remission of indebtedness within 120 days of the Army memo announcing the waiver option.

n Past-due FSGLI premiums will start to come out of soldiers’ pay as soon as their Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System, or DEERS, data is corrected, though not all at once.

n Troops who owe the most — more than $72 — will see $30 per month deducted from their pay until the debt is paid in full. Those who owe less than that will see the debt paid in three months or less.

Servicemembers uncertain of their status should contact their DEERS representative or their chain of command.

Source: March 2007 Army memo

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