(Editor's Note: A version of this article will appear in the March issue of Military Officer, a magazine available to all MOAA Premium and Life members. Learn more about the magazine here; learn more about joining MOAA here.)
The repeal of the “widows tax” in the FY 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) marks a major milestone in MOAA’s advocacy and served as one of several legislative successes from 2019. We can point to decades of leadership and driving education on the issue, but the final push was made possible by a coalition of people and veterans organizations coming together.
There are many legislators to thank, chiefly Sens. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.), along with Reps. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Mac Thornberry (R-Texas). There were many others over the years, but these are the ones who led the final surge, leveraging overwhelming bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress: 383 House and 77 Senate cosponsors.
Also impactful were the leaders and supporters from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), the National Military Family Association, and the Gold Star Wives of America, Inc. Their engagement and stories made a complex issue familiar to many over the years.
The amount of media coverage on the topic was the greatest we’ve seen, ranging from national figures such as CNN’s Jake Tapper to local outlets throughout the country. WUSA9 in Washington, D.C., shined a light on the issues for TV viewers throughout the national capital region. WUSA9’s Annie Yu illustrated the personal pain and overwhelming injustice brought on by the policy; her frequent reports touched many, thanks to the willingness of Kristy DiDomenico, MOAA member Edie Smith, and Surviving Spouse Advisory Committee member Capt. Kathy Thorp, USN (Ret), to open their lives and hearts.
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MOAA’s Surviving Spouse Advisory Committee, with its virtual chapter spanning the nation, used their collective voices to inform our Board and fuel our efforts. Individuals like Kathy Prout and MOAA Board member Rear Adm. Tom Jurkowsky, USN (Ret), made a difference locally and nationally. Kathy, a staunch advocate in California and Capitol Hill, and Tom, a prolific writer of op-eds published in local and national publications, were also critical to our success.
Our Councils and Chapters were center stage during MOAA’s Storming the Hill in April and continued efforts with a Summer Storm campaign at home in August – both efforts instrumental in getting the message out broadly on the Hill with deeper contact at home.
Our virtual army, a sea of members and caring citizens who took to social media to Storm the Hill in new ways, reached legislators and influencers. Millions saw and interacted with the information, tagging legislators and sharing their own stories.
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For me, the repeal of the widows tax is personal. I once promised my Executive Officer, Maj. David Brodeur, I would look out for his family when he was sent overseas to Afghanistan. I thought again about my promise as I watched his 4-year-old son hug his casket after his death in an attack on Kabul International Airport in April 2011. I took the role I have today pledging to fight for this repeal.
MOAA – You – helped lead the way, and your efforts via letters, calls, emails, and visits with legislators were essential to fostering the bipartisan commitment to passing the FY2020 NDAA eliminating the widows tax. Now, as you read this, another Storm is brewing. In March, we’ll again storm Capitol Hill to fight on behalf of servicemembers, veterans, and their families. Will you join in this effort?