Proposed SGLI Change Would Close Spouse Notification Loopholes

An Army family walks hand-in-hand (Photo: U.S. Army/David Vergun)
An Army family walks hand-in-hand (Photo: U.S. Army/David Vergun)

A new proposal on Capitol Hill is the latest in a long, ongoing battle to alter the Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance (SGLI) program to be friendlier to spouses and family members.

SGLI offers an inexpensive life insurance option for troops of up to $400,000. The benefit costs seven cents per $1,000 of coverage and is purchased in $50,000 increments. For $1 extra per month, an additional benefit known as the SGLI Traumatic Injury Protection Program (TSGLI) can be tacked on. That coverage issues payments if the service member has specific injuries or is hospitalized over a set number of consecutive days.

Over the last several years, one Navy widow has fought to make changes to the program that would make it friendlier to surviving families. After her husband, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Landon Jones, was killed in a helicopter crash in 2013, Theresa Jones was startled to learn that he had declined SGLI coverage. As a result, the family was not paid $400,000 after his death.

Current law orders the military services to notify a spouse if her service member declines coverage, something Theresa said never happened in her case. But the Navy said it didn't have to pay because, according to current law, "Failure to provide a notification ... does not affect the validity of any election."

Related:

She Had No Idea He Turned Down SGLI

Since then, Jones has worked with lawmakers to put changes in place. A variety of alterations has been proposed, including a requirement that the military actually notify the spouse, but none has been signed into law.

This year, the House approved as part of its version of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act a measure that would automatically push troops into the SGLI program when they deploy, regardless of whether they've signed up. But whether it makes it into law remains to be seen.

Now Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California Republican, has again proposed a measure that would require spouses to be notified when SGLI is declined, or still get paid should the service member die.

The new bill would "require notarized acknowledgment," according to a summary.

This version has been referred to the House Veterans' Affairs Committee instead of the House Armed Services Committee, which manages changes to the Defense Department.

That's because while the SGLI program is technically run through the Pentagon, its oversight and payout is done by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Asked by Hunter in April whether the VA would support such a change, a top VA official said "yes."

"The House Veterans Affairs Committee has been insistent that any changes regarding VA policy go through their jurisdiction. To date, the House Veterans Affairs Committee has taken no action on the issue," a press release from Hunter's office says.

"Personally, I don't care how it's done, I just want to see it done," Hunter said in the release. "Our military families of fallen service members deserve better than politicians bickering over who should actually fix a problem which causes great harm."

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at amy.bushatz@military.com.

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