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President Barack Obama signed a bill Monday that extends a temporary survivors benefit through 2017 and also provides annual increases in the payment.
The special survivor indemnity allowance was created two years ago as a small but symbolic payment to survivors whose military benefits are reduced dollar for dollar by the amount they receive in veterans survivor benefits. The allowance, which began as a $50 monthly payment, increased to $60 on Oct. 1.
The original law had the benefit expiring in 2014, but a provision of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, signed by Obama on Monday, extends the allowance for another five years, with continued regular increases.
Under the law, the payment will be $150 in 2014, $200 in 2015, $275 in 2016 and $310 in 2017.
Even with the increases, the allowance doesn't come close to making up for the offset in pay received by survivors who are eligible for both military survivors benefits and veterans dependency and indemnity compensation. Most survivors lose $1,500 a month because of the government's long-standing practice of not paying two survivor benefits for one death.
Elimination of the offset has been a top priority for military and survivor groups for years, and has gained wide support in Congress. The stumbling block has remained the cost, estimated to be more than $5.2 billion over five years to fully eliminate the offset for survivors for all service-connected deaths, which could include deaths on active duty or post-service deaths due to service-connected causes.