KILLEEN — Members of the Central Texas chapter of the Military Officers Association of America were briefed on the organization’s top priorities by the national president during their monthly meeting at the Shilo Inn in Killeen on Thursday.

Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Dana Atkins, the ninth president and CEO of MOAA, discussed key issues the organization is working on with Congress on behalf of the service members, veterans and their families. Issues like military pay, retiree healthcare and surviving spouse benefits.

“The number one issue is pay compensation, the ability to compensate our service members equitably for what they’re doing,” Atkins said.

Atkins said it comes down to recruitment and retention and being able to maintain troop levels in an all-volunteer force.

“Obviously, if you don’t pay them well then you don’t retain them, and you don’t recruit them,” Atkins said.

Atkins said they were able to secure a two percent increase in annual compensation for the next fiscal national defense budget.

Another priority deals with service members who are medically discharged, but not retirement eligible. Atkins said his organization wants to have the law changed so that a person who served 19 years in the military and was medically discharged would receive retirement pay and disability compensation.

Another law Atkins said he was working to change deals with the Survivor Benefits Plan annuity and Dependency Indemnity Compensation offset, commonly referred to as the “widows tax.” The Survivor Benefits Plan is an insurance plan purchased by the retiree from the Department of Defense that will pay a surviving spouse a monthly annuity to compensate for the loss of retirement income when the retiree dies. The Dependency Indemnity Compensation is a monetary benefit paid to eligible survivors of veterans who died from a service-related injury or illness.

“The ‘widows tax’ is probably one of the most protracted efforts that we’ve had,” Atkins said. “Roughly 67,000 widows are encumbered by the fact that their spouses paid into a survivor benefit plan.”

Atkins said the current law does not allow eligible survivors to receive both claims if their service member paid into the benefits plan and their loss of life was service connected, a loss of approximately $15,000 a year.

Atkins said he was also working to provide affordable and adequate healthcare to military retirees.

“Most of our service members will tell you that healthcare, if they served a career in the military, would be provided for the rest of their lives,” Atkins said. “So, we’re trying to make sure that their healthcare premiums and the pharmacy copays don’t get pushed higher to anything irresponsible.”

Atkins said members of MOAA will be gathering in April to meet with key legislatures to address issues mentioned above and has 11 registered lobbyists who create a large capacity to advocate for veterans.

“We talk with all the legislatures who craft the laws of our land and explain to them with factual data that proves that what we’re trying to advocate is responsible not only from a political perspective, but responsible for our nation.”

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