How to Use the Survivor Benefit Plan's One-Time Open Enrollment

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After blocking retirees from enrolling in the Survivor Benefit Plan by not making the enrollment forms available as part of a one-time open season ordered by Congress, that process is now available.

Now that you have the form, here's what you can expect:

What Is SBP Open Enrollment?

Retirees typically get only one chance to enroll in the Survivor Benefit Plan, which happens when they retire. If they opt in, a percentage gets deducted from their retirement pay. After the retiree dies, the SBP pays the retiree's beneficiary up to 55% of the retiree's retirement pay, adjusted for inflation, monthly for the rest of the beneficiary's life or until a child reaches an age cap.

The open season coincides with the elimination of the SBP Offset, a rule that punished survivors who also received a Department of Veterans Affairs survivor benefit.

Retirees enrolling for the first time will have to buy in, making up for the premiums they would have paid if they'd opted in at retirement.

Defense Department spokesperson Christopher Sherwood outlined in writing a four-step process by which retirees or their survivors will get an estimate of how much they'll have to pay in retroactive premiums. The retirees will also find out how much they'll owe in future deductions from their retirement checks before they decide whether to enroll.

The Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) will process enrollments for military retirees from the active-duty Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Space Force, Sherwood said. The respective service branches, on the other hand, will process the paperwork for Guard, Reserve and "gray area" retirees.

Retirees can also discontinue their SBP coverage during the open season, which began in December 2022 and lasts through 2023. The discontinuance form is available now at DFAS's SBP open enrollment webpage.

How to Use SBP Open Enrollment

These are the steps for enrollment through DFAS once it begins:

1. Letter of Intent

The retiree will get the Letter of Intent form from DFAS's SBP open enrollment webpage, fill it out and turn it in, according to guidance that will be posted on the page once the form is available.

2. Cost Estimates

DFAS will send the retiree cost estimates within 30 days of receiving the Letter of Intent. The estimates will include the retiree's "one-time buy-in," Sherwood said, to make up for past unpaid premiums; as well as the monthly amount going forward. Costs "may change if there is a time gap between when they receive the estimate and the time they submit their final enrollment form. Costs may also change if there are changes to the information submitted," Sherwood said.

3. Enrollment Form and Payment Decision

If the retiree enrolls, this will be the time to submit the SBP Open Season Enrollment Form. The retiree can make up past premiums in one lump-sum payment, in 12 monthly installments or in a combination of a lump sum and monthly installments.

4. Enrollment Confirmation and 30-Day Cancellation Window

DFAS will confirm the retiree's enrollment within 30 days of receiving the SBP Open Season Enrollment Form and will provide payment instructions. Likewise, the retiree will have 30 days from the date of signing the form to cancel the enrollment before becoming responsible for the one-time, buy-in premium.

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This story was update March 17, 2023, to reflect that the open season enrollment forms had become available.

Amanda Miller can be reached at

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