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For military widows and widowers, getting married again can be costly

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

For military widows and widowers, getting married again can be costly. Federal rules cut off benefits to widows and widowers who get remarried before the age of 55. Joining us now is Military Times reporter Leo Shane III. Leo, can you give us an idea of how much a veteran's surviving spouse stands to lose if they remarry before 55?

LEO SHANE III: Yeah. It's quite a bit of money. I mean, these military survivor benefits can be generous. So we're talking anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars a year. That can total up to over 40,000, $50,000 a year. So it's a real financial burden for these families.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, and these rules can lead to something that you call relationship limbo. Tell us what relationship limbo means.

SHANE: Yeah. Basically, these family - these spouses, after they've lost a loved one, they go through the grieving process. If they want to move on and get remarried to a new boyfriend or girlfriend, they've got to make these financial decisions. They've got to decide whether or not their love outweighs that kind of big financial burden that comes in. I mean, it's - it seems cruel, but to ask someone, hey, is it really worth marrying this person if you're going to lose $40,000 a year, it just puts these spouses who have already gone through so much into an awkward position.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. What a tough choice, deciding between love and money in this case. Yeah. And you interviewed a woman who went through this. Her husband was in the army, and then he took his own life when she was just 24 years old. What happened when she eventually decided to remarry?

SHANE: Yeah. Her name is Rebecca Morrison Mullaney, and I actually spoke to her years ago when she - before she had gotten remarried, trying to make these decisions, trying to understand, you know, what exactly this would be. Ultimately, she did decide that she wanted to move ahead with having a family, you know, raising a new family, having a new husband. But it did - it cost her $42,000 a year to do this. And now she's on Capitol Hill talking to lawmakers, saying, look, this just isn't fair. This feels like you're saying that I'm all settled and that this first marriage never happened. You're erasing my husband, Ian, who I loved and wanted to stay with, but couldn't because of circumstances. So it's not just the money. It's also the feeling that the government's saying, well, this is over now. This is settled. And frankly, his service didn't count, and his service is gone.

MARTÍNEZ: I mean, it just sounds like these rules are keeping military widows and widowers from getting remarried.

SHANE: Yeah. And that's what's happening in a lot of cases here. You know, we talked to folks over at the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. They've been tracking this for a while. They said only about 5% of surviving military spouses under the age of 55 get remarried because of these financial penalties. After 55, you do see quite a few spouses who will step in, who've been in long-term relationships, who've sort of kept their relationships hidden from the government just to keep doing this. But this could impact, you know, upwards of 60,000, 65,000 families across the country who are just looking to move on with their lives.

MARTÍNEZ: And you write that legislation recently introduced maybe might address this issue. Tell us about the Love Lives On Act.

SHANE: Yeah. This is the latest attempt to try and fix this problem. It simply would remove that penalty, allow these spouses to get remarried before 55. So it's already been introduced in both the House and the Senate. It's got support from Republicans and Democrats. And we'll see if there's some support for it this year.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. That's Military Times reporter Leo Shane III. Leo, thanks.

SHANE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAN MOUNTAIN'S "TO BE MADE AS NEW") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.