Know your Survivor Benefit Plan options before you retire Published Jan. 5, 2023 By Derrick Harris, Arnold AFB Survivor Benefit Plan Counselor Arnold AFB ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. -- The Survivor Benefit Plan is a voluntary program that provides the survivors of participating military retirees a monthly income that starts when the member dies and retired pay stops. Although you may not be aware of it, automatic SBP spouse coverage became effective Sept. 10, 2001, under the National Defense Authorization Act of 2002. While on active duty, the government provides this protection at no cost to your spouse. Before retiring from the Air Force, however, you must decide whether or not to continue the SBP. By law, spouses and eligible dependents are protected by maximum SBP coverage after retirement unless you, with your spouse’s concurrence, decline SBP coverage, elect “Child Only” SBP coverage or elect coverage at a reduced level. However, once you retire SBP financial protection is no longer free. If you choose to enroll in the SBP, a monthly premium will be deducted from your Air Force retired pay. The premium cost is 6.5% of covered retired pay, or less for some lower levels of coverage. The monthly cost is subject to cost-of-living adjustments, or COLAs, but the percentage does not increase. The cost for the coverage is deducted from retired pay until the retiree’s death. The SBP annuity amount a spouse receives at the time of the retiree’s death depends on the level of coverage elected prior to retirement. The level of coverage or base amount may be as low as $300, but cannot exceed full retired pay. The surviving spouse receives 55% of the base amount. The value of the annuity increases by COLAs before and after the retiree’s death, keeping up with the effects of inflation. SBP allows the member to exclude the spouse and elect child-only coverage. Although child-only coverage costs less than SBP coverage for the spouse, a child’s eligibility is limited to age 22, unless incapable of self-support. If the retiree dies after the children are age 22, the spouse will not be entitled to receive any payments. The only way to ensure spouse coverage is to elect spouse coverage. Because your family’s finances could be significantly affected by your SBP decision, it is important that you understand the program. The Air Force strongly encourages you to attend the SBP briefing with your spouse. The SBP briefing is mandatory for the member, and completing the DD 2656 form is a mandatory checklist item for final out-processing. Call to schedule your SBP appointment in building 100, room B111A. You will not have an opportunity to enroll in the SBP after retiring; your decision before retirement will be final. Once again, retired pay stops when the retiree dies. The only way the survivor can receive a monthly check from the Air Force is through the SBP. The Air Force urges you and your spouse to carefully weigh the many advantages of the SBP before making a decision. Contact your local servicing agency for further information.