New Act Introduced in Congress for Vets' children with special needs

Good News for Veterans - Bipartisan Debra Nixon Special Needs Trust Inclusion Act

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Diane Lilli


A bipartisan bill allowing veterans in the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) was introduced by New Jersey Democrat Representative Mikie Sherrill and Florida Republican Representative Gus Bilirakis.

The “Debra Nixon Special Needs Trust Inclusion Act” if passed will offer participating veterans within SBP the full advantage of Special Needs Trusts.

Beneficiaries today are not allowed to change their beneficiaries to incorporate the trusts that the Debra Nixon Special Needs Trust Inclusion Act addresses.

In 2014, Congress allowed some enrollees to designate a Special Needs Trust as their beneficiary according to specific caveats. The designees were limited to those that had been previously designated “Spouse and Child” or “Child Only” as their beneficiary. 

This 2014 law created issues for many veterans with special needs dependents since they had already designated “Spouse Only” to avoid jeopardizing their child’s other benefits. At the time, veterans were not given the opportunity to change their designee.

This new legislation is named after veteran Debra Nixon, who experienced the frustrations of the prior legislation first hand. 

Shew was a member of the Uniformed Public Health Corps and a resident of New Jersey’s 11th District, the district for  Representative Sherrill. Dixon was not allowed to alter her beneficiary dating from 2014. 

The new legislature ensures her right to take full advantage of designating her child’s Special Needs Trust with full earned benefits.

“The Survivor Benefit Plan is an earned benefit for our men and women in uniform,” said Rep. Sherrill. “The families of our service members deserve to take full advantage of the program. Many of our veterans with dependents with special needs, including Debra Nixon in my district, haven’t been able to designate their children as beneficiaries for fear of imperiling the other benefits their dependent receives. It is past time for that to change.”

The Debra Nixon Special Needs Trust Inclusion Act will allow veterans to authorize a limited benefits’ open season. This new open season will allow enrollees to change their designee to “Spouse and Child” or “Child Only” which will then offer their special needs children the full advantage of the benefit their parent earned. 

The new bill will also designate the creation of a Special Needs Trust, an important legal document that allows all special needs children’s parents to change their designee after the trust has been legally established.

“As a father of three adult children, I know that job of parenting never really ends.  However, parents of children or adults with special needs face unique challenges as they prepare for the long-term needs of their child,” said Rep. Bilirakis. “Our legislation removes bureaucratic barriers and helps make this an easier process for these families.”

The bipartisan bill was delivered to the U.S. House Armed Services Committee last week.

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