By Carla Olivo, PCSgrades Director of Strategic Communications

On December 23, 2016 President Barack Obama signed into law one of the most important bills passed by Congress each year  – the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This bill sets funding levels for the armed services and outlines spending priorities. This 2017 version authorizes a military pay raise of 2.1 percent, the largest in six years. It also includes major changes in military health care and acquisition processes; restricts transfers from Guantanamo Bay and prohibits the closure of several military installations.


Excitement grew in the PCSgrades’ offices when it became clear that language championed by our CEO and Founder, Todd Ernst, had made the final cut of this all important bill.  It all started when the Defense Finance & Accounting Service (DFAS) sent 95 letters to Reserve Component families who were overpaid by the survivor benefits program. The families of deceased Reservists and Guardsmen were due a lesser amount, simply because their loved one died while serving on the wrong payroll category. The deceased service members were mistakenly classified as serving on “active duty” versus “inactive duty training” which carries a much lower benefit. But the idea that survivor benefits would change from day to day based solely on the pay status for the service member on any particular day is extremely random and unfair.

The family of Major Pete “Oly” Jahns” received one of the 95 letters…is one of the families impacted by this legislation.

Spearheading the Effort

It’s hard to imagine the helplessness these military families who sacrificed so much, must have felt upon discovering a payroll status would determine their future benefits. In some instances, the families of two service members killed working side by side received very different payouts.

Ernst became involved after reading a DFAS letter from the widow of one of his squadron mates nearly five years ago.  He subsequently created an advocacy website, and spearheaded efforts with military and veteran service organizations, in the DOD, and among Congress to promote the necessary changes.

The PCSgrades Team along with many others, are extremely grateful the 2017 NDAA, will right this unbelievable wrong AND these deserving families will finally receive the benefits they deserve.

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