HEROES Act Headed to House for Consideration

November 1, 2007 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Legislation to protect the survivor benefits of service members killed in action passed the House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday and is now headed to the full House for consideration.

The Honoring Existing Retirement Obligations for Every Servicemember (HEROES) Act was introduced by Congressman Earl Pomeroy (D-North Dakota), and will fix an oversight in current law to ensure that the families of National Guard and Reserve soldiers killed in action receive the full survivor pension benefits to which they are entitled, according to a Pomeroy news release. 

The Uniform Services Employment and Reemployment Right Act (USERRA) requires employers to treat periods of military service as uninterrupted service with the employer for eligibility and benefit accrual under a pension plan, but gives no guidance on what happens with employer-sponsored retirement benefits when a service member dies while on active duty. Under the HEROES Act, in order to comply with the requirements of USERRA, an employer would be required to treat the day prior to the date of death as the date the employee returned to work for purpose of triggering payment of survivor benefits or other beneficiary payments under the employee’s pension plan.

Pomeroy introduced the HEROES Act after the widow of Major R. Alan Johnson found that the survivor benefits under his Washington State pension treated him as a terminated employee, the news release said.   

Because the pension plan considered Johnson voluntarily terminated it would have only paid his widow, Victoria, a survivor benefit equal to a refund of his contributions to his pension, and the money paid by his employer into the state pension plan would be kept by the retirement system.  Had Johnson been considered an active employee, the survivor benefits paid to his family would have been a full death benefit. 

“Our National Guard and Reserve soldiers make tremendous sacrifices for their country and we owe them a debt of gratitude.  The survivors of these citizen soldiers who are killed in action deserve to receive the benefits their loved ones so rightly earned,” Pomeroy said in the news release.  “This legislation will make an important correction to the law and ensure that the families of Guard and Reserve soldiers killed in the line of duty will be provided for.”