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Bipartisan legislation would stop DOD from overdrafting of veterans' accounts after their deaths

By THOMAS GNAU | The Dayton Daily News | Published: March 29, 2021

DAYTON, Ohio (Tribune News Service) — New federal bipartisan legislation aims to prohibit the U.S. Department of Defense from clawing back or recouping some final retirement payments from veterans after they die.

U.S. Reps. Mike Turner, R- Dayton, and John Garamendi, D- California, reintroduced the bill, called "Military Retiree Survivor Comfort Act," late last week.

Under Department of Defense policy, the final month's retirement benefit of a deceased veteran may be refunded if the family fails to immediately notify the DOD of a veteran's death, Turner noted in a joint release.

"Military families in grieving should not be punished under heartless and unnecessary penalties," Turner said. " Congressman Garamendi and I introduced the Military Retiree Survivor Comfort Act to fix this misguided policy. Military families deserve our respect, and our bipartisan bill will help these families avoid undue hardship during what is already a difficult time."

Military families are often unaware that the DOD's Defense Finance and Accounting Service can electronically pull back overpayments without their consent, the congressmen said in their release. The bill would end the practice for any benefit paid in the month in which a veteran was alive for at least 24 hours.

"This results in joint bank accounts being drained of funds and subject to overdraft fees, all while the family is still grieving from their loved one's death," they said.

Kimberly Frisco, executive director of the Montgomery County Veterans Service Commission, said this is very much an issue. Families of veterans can find themselves dealing with grief and a loss of income simultaneously.

Frisco said she has seen individuals come in for emergency financial help in these and similar situations.

"The last month they're alive, they (the DOD and the Defense Finance and Accounting Service) can take back that retiree's pay," she said. "It can leave the family in a lurch."

Military families should compile a list of numbers they need to call when a loved veteran dies, such as DFAS and Veterans Affairs, she suggested.

"The stress and grief of just making plans and final arrangements for your loved one is just overwhelming," Frisco said. "Sometimes they may not know where to go to do that."

"This is a terrible practice," Turner said in an interview with the Dayton Daily News on Monday. "While people are mourning the loss of their loved one ... they end up in a financial crisis made by the DOD and actually reaching in to their checking account. People need security more than anything when they're mourning the loss of a loved one."

He said he doesn't know how often such claw-backs occur. "Every time it happens, it's a tragedy."

A similar piece of legislation was introduced in early 2019 in a previous session of Congress, but that bill did not receive a vote, according to GovTrack.

Garamendi is chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness. Turner, also an Armed Services Committee member, cosponsored this legislation in 2019.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Veterans Affairs said the VA does not comment on pending legislation.

To report a relative's death to DFAS, family members may go to: https://www.dfas.mil/RetiredMilitary/survivors/Retiree-Death/

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