SGLI gives troops life insurance coverage of up to $400,000 for $29 a month. Troops can opt out altogether or elect to be insured for lesser amounts, which carry a lower monthly cost.
Federal law currently requires the spouse to be notified if the policy is declined by the service member. However, the law also states that officials do not have to actually prove that they made that notification and that it can simply be done in "good faith."
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"It says you must do it, the Secretary [of Defense] must notify the spouse, and then it says at the very bottom, 'Just kidding, you don't have to do any of that stuff it just said,' " said Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California Republican, speaking on the law that governs SGLI.
Hunter sat in on a hearing of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee's subcommittee on disability assistance and memorial affairs, which has purview over SGLI. He had included a measure in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act to require that notification, but it was removed before the bill was signed into law.
Hunter spoke at the hearing to officials from veteran service organizations and representatives from the Department of Veterans Affairs. He cited the case of Theresa Jones, a Navy widow whose pilot husband turned down SGLI and then was killed. Jones said she was never notified that he had turned down the benefit. She was later awarded the money through a lawsuit.
Related: She Had No Idea He Turned Down SGLI
"She got paid but only because we put it in the media and applied massive pressure to Prudential," which manages the SGLI program for the VA, Hunter said.
"Frankly, that part of the law needs to change," he said.
Hunter asked Robert Reynolds, deputy under secretary for disability assistance for the Veterans Benefits Administration, whether he thinks spouses should be notified of an opt-out, but only gave him time for a one-word response.
"VA, you got anything here? It's your fund," Hunter said. "Do you think the spouse of an active-duty service member should be notified if they opt out of their life insurance?" "Yes," Reynolds said.
Meanwhile, Reynolds told the committee in his statement submitted for the record that more than 796,000 sailors, soldiers and airmen have used a new, online SGLI system to certify and update their benefit information.
The system, known as the SGLI Online Enrollment System (SOES), replaces the paper-based update system. The Navy, Army and Air Force started using the system last year, and it will come online for the Marine Corps and Coast Guard later this year, Reynolds said.
-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.