Helping military families, because it’s right

Jul 23, 2018

Becoming a member of our military comes with significant responsibilities and, sometimes, the ultimate sacrifice.

For this reason, there are safeguards in place to take care of loved ones should the unthinkable become a reality. Military families should not have to worry about finances during this time because of a bureaucratic discrepancy in current law.

Unfortunately, some do.

Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) is a low-cost term life insurance program automatically issued to active duty service members of our Armed Forces, offering full coverage to surviving families. For a cost of $29 monthly, a family can obtain $400,000 in coverage to help recover, as much as possible, should the worst happen.

As useful as SGLI can be, this important resource has a glaring shortcoming; active duty members can opt out of this coverage without notifying their spouses.

While there exists a tepid obligation by the military to provide a “good faith effort” to notify spouses of a lack of or declined coverage, there also exists a loophole allowing for no notification.

Such circumstances do not “affect the validity of any election.” In other words, service members selecting lesser coverage, declining coverage or changing beneficiaries can do so without the knowledge of their spouse.

Imagine on top of the terrible news that your active duty spouse has passed, you now learn that your family has been left with nothing in terms of coverage to help care for your needs.

Fixing this issue is simple and, more than once, I have introduced an amendment to the annual defense bill that would correct the portion of the law regarding notification.

Surprisingly, I have been met with significant pushback by the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, or HVAC. While SGLI is technically a defense program, its oversight is carried out by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Because of its insistence that any legislation regarding the VA must come from within the HVAC, which to date has taken no action, there is a chance there will be no change.

While the game of politics plays out and politicians bicker about who should fix the problem, our military families continue to be cast aside and forced to suffer at the hands of an unnecessary federal bureaucracy.

To put a face on this problem, a military widow from San Diego, Theresa Jones, experienced this situation firsthand when she lost her husband, Lt. Cmdr. Landon Jones, in a flight operations accident in 2013.

At the time of her husband’s death, her children were 5 years old and 2 months old, and she was under the false impression that the SGLI benefits so desperately needed by her young family would be forthcoming.

Unfortunately, many years prior, her husband had declined SGLI, and Theresa was never notified.

After significant correspondence by my office with both the Navy and Theresa’s insurance agency, Prudential, SGLI benefits were eventually authorized, and she was able to move forward with more important matters, like raising her two children.

The problem, however, still exists for others, and I echo Theresa’s words when describing the situation, “The loophole that is in this law provides for a total lack of responsibility on the military’s part to follow their own rules and take care of their people.”

It is unfortunate that the SGLI notification issue has fallen victim to a pointless turf battle in Congress, and it is for this reason that I have decided to introduce stand-alone legislation, the Fulfilling Obligations to Families of the Fallen Act, which will restructure SGLI to function like conventional insurance.

Under my bill, when any changes are made to the policy regarding coverage or beneficiary disbursement, both the insured and their spouse must submit notarized acknowledgement of the change. This is a simple, common-sense solution that will directly help military families.

We honor those who pay the ultimate sacrifice by how we care for those they leave behind. I ask my colleagues to put aside the politics and work with me to get something passed.

It doesn’t matter who passes it, I personally do not care how it is done, just that it gets done. Our Marines here in San Diego remind me often, it doesn’t matter who is right, it only matters that you do what is right.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., is a former Marine Corps major who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was elected to Congress in 2008.