Military service members, both active duty and retired, have the option of taking out what is called a Survivor's Benefit Plan. These plans are partially funded by the government and are set up to be deducted monthly from the military member's pay. If a service member elects to go without an SBP plan, then all benefits cease upon death of the retiree.
Upon initiation of one of these plans, a member has the option of designating a beneficiary of those benefits. This includes what percentage of the monthly amount he or she would like a beneficiary to receive after death. This percentage can be allotted up to 55 percent of the full monthly benefit, and will determine the monthly plan premium deducted from the member's pay.
Most beneficiaries are spouses of ex-military members, but become ineligible for survivor benefits after divorce. In 1984, Congress made amendments to this law to allow coverage for ex-spouses. However, this coverage is not automatic, and may be voluntary or involuntary based on specific circumstances. The military retiree must apply to convert this coverage within one year after a divorce. A beneficiary designation of a spouse will not automatically carry over when he or she becomes an ex-spouse. The retiree MUST follow the proper steps to make necessary changes. If this coverage is ordered by the court in a divorce proceeding, and the military member fails to make the changes, then that coverage may be obtained by the ex-spouse by written request to the service center.
If a service member elects to name an ex-spouse as SBP beneficiary, he or she cannot name a current spouse unless waiver of the benefits are received in writing from the ex-spouse.
Consulting with an experienced military divorce attorney can help a military member better understand the effects of any specific beneficiary designation in a survivor benefit plan.
Source: NOLO, "Former Spouse SBP (Survivor Benefit Plans) for Military Members," Accessed Nov 28, 2017