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Suffolk siblings to lose survivor benefits, years after father died in military accident

Navy Electronics Technician 1st Class Charles Findley's children will lose $740 a month each because their mother was not Findley's current wife when he died.

SUFFOLK, Va. — A "For Sale" sign sits outside Chenoah Kent's house off Route 58 in Suffolk. 

The mother and teacher is moving to Roanoke, where the cost of living is cheaper. 

"I had to tell [the school] administration that I was breaking my teaching contract and we'd have to locate to a more affordable area," Kent said.

Starting in January, Kent's two children, 11 and 14, will no longer be eligible for the military's Survivor Benefit Plan's (SBP) optional child annuity. 

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), passed in 2020, reverts the payments to the surviving spouse only, beginning next year. 

The kids will each lose $740 a month because their mother was not Navy Electronics Technician 1st Class Charles Findley's surviving spouse.

Kent and Findley were divorced and he remarried months before he died in the line of duty in 2017.

Findley was one of 10 sailors killed off the coast of Singapore when an oil tanker collided with the USS John McCain. By law, the money from the SBP goes to the children's stepmother.

"When I truly sit down and think about it... I see it as a disservice to Charles," Kent said. "We were still friends when we divorced. One thing he always wanted to make sure [of is] that he took care of both his children and his spouse. And if that's something that he chose, I was actually shocked." 

The change in the NDAA was a result of years of fighting by surviving spouses who felt they were being penalized by the SBP and the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) offset after the loss of their spouse.  

Previously, the government deducted the amount of the DIC, which comes from the VA from the Survivor Benefit Plan.  

A workaround meant naming only dependents as beneficiaries of the Survivor Benefit Plan in order to keep money from both funds. The final stage of an offset elimination will revert the funds to the surviving spouses, which means they will get the full amount of both payouts. 

"In January we will start preparing next year's Defense Authorization Bill, and if there is a need for any kind of a fix or adjustment in this program, we would traditionally make it," said US Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

His staff issued this statement after contacting Kent following a 13News Now inquiry: 

“As a member of the Armed Services Committee, Senator Kaine is devoted to ensuring servicemembers and their families receive the support they need and deserve. His casework team can help Virginians navigate issues like accessing federal benefits, and are reaching out to this family..."

"Senator Kaine understands that navigating servicemember benefit programs can be frustrating and confusing and urges the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to improve the benefits process for servicemembers and their families. He will continue to look for ways in Congress to help ensure military families are receiving the benefits they have earned.”

Riho Findley, Findley's widow who lives in Japan, wrote the following response:

"I love my husband and his children. I will do my best personally to try and fix this with their mother." 

Kent knows a permanent fix would probably have to come through legislation, and time is not on her side. She only found out about the change in a letter she received two months ago.

 "It is extremely stressful," she said.

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