It’s nearly eight months until federal income taxes are due and Gold Star wife Jessica Braden-Rogers is already worried about filing her returns.

“If we don’t see something happen, we’re screwed,” she said. “Next year my son is supposed to be getting braces. But we could still owe thousands extra in taxes next year unless something is fixed.”

Braden-Rogers — whose husband, Army Capt. Michael Braden, died while deployed to Afghanistan in 2012 — was one of a vocal group of military widows who lobbied Congress last spring on the so-called “kiddie tax,” which applies to certain minors with unearned income.

Under the tax code overhaul signed into law in 2017, that money is now taxed at a rate as high as 37 percent, which lead to surprise tax hikes for a host of Gold Star families. Since Braden-Rogers’s 9-year-old son, James, receives his father’s death benefits, the taxes on that income jumped from about $1,100 a year in 2018 to nearly $4,500 this spring.

She said other families she has spoken with have seen their bills triple or quadruple to more than $10,000.

“That’s money our families need for rent and groceries,” she said.

The issue drew national headlines in April and May and prompted rushed legislative action from both the House and the Senate. But for the last three months, those separate plans have sat unresolved on opposite sides of Capitol Hill. With fall approaching, Braden-Rogers worries that much of the public assumes the problem is fixed.

“I have no clue where we go from here,” she said. “It’s almost do-or-die time for our families. It’s impossible to make any long-term financial plans without knowing how much money we may owe next year.”

Army Capt. Michael Braden died while serving in Afghanistan on April 18, 2012.
Army Capt. Michael Braden died while serving in Afghanistan on April 18, 2012.

At issue are political fights between the House’s Democratic leadership and the Republican-controlled Senate.

House lawmakers overwhelmingly passed a fix as part of a series of changes to the 2017 tax code overhaul. Senate members overwhelmingly passed a stand-alone measure just dealing with the Gold Star families issue, and key Republican senators have blocked consideration of the House measure.

Ashlynne Haycock, deputy director for policy and legislation at the Tragedy Assistance Program For Survivors, said she is optimistic that a compromise will be reached sometime this year, though likely not as quickly as advocates had hoped for.

“Both chambers of Congress have passed legislation to amend the tax code and repay families for the higher taxes they were burdened with in 2018,” she said. “We are confident Congress will pass a final version of the legislation before the end of the calendar year and not put our surviving military families in this position again.”

Braden-Rogers said she has requested meetings with Senate leadership to advance the process and possibly broker a deal, but has been rebuffed.

Lawmakers are expected to return from their extended summer recess on Sept. 9 and immediately pick up negotiations on a host of budget issues, including the annual defense authorization bill. That massive policy measure includes a repeal of the so-called military widow’s tax, which forces some military families to transfer death benefits to dependent children to avoid costly offsets (thus creating some of the “kiddie tax” issues).

Braden-Rogers hopes lawmakers don’t let those issues distract or delay from a final fix for her family.

“This shouldn’t be a political issue,” she said. “These are kids whose parents died in the military, and now they are suffering again.”