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SGT. SHAFT: Limits restrict tapping vet’s disability pay in divorce case

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Dear Sgt. Shaft,

I have been married for 16 years to a veteran retiree who is 100 percent disabled. He gets a pension and disability pay for me and my children. He abuses me and my two sons emotionally, psychologically and physically. He doesn't give me or the children any money. I have no money of my own. I want to leave, but I have nowhere to go or money. No family member to turn to. I am also ill. I have a kidney problem that the doctor said I probably will have the rest of my life. My children are afraid of him. He asked for a divorce, but since I am ill and can't work, I think I would be better off if we got a separation, so I can keep the health insurance. He really wants to marry someone else overseas. What can I do? I can't afford a lawyer. Is there any way out of this mess? Constance B., via the Internet

Dear Constance,

My sources at the VA provided the following response to your urgent plea for help:

"First off, I suggest that she get in contact with a Women's Help Center in her area. They can help with a lot of the issues she mentioned that are not VA-related. Frequently, they can provide legal advice at little or no cost. If her husband is abusing their children, there are laws to protect them, and she should make sure she and her children are safe first and worry about the other things after that.

"If they divorce, she may apply for an apportionment of his benefit to the regional office where the veterans record is located. The claim would be developed and considered. However, there is currently no "automatic" amount that would be granted.

"There are currently no provisions for payment of any portion of a veterans service-connected disability compensation to or on behalf of a divorced spouse except in limited circumstances involving military retirees.

"38 USC 5301(a) exempts VA disability compensation from taxation, claims of creditors, attachment, levy or seizure, by or under any legal or equitable process.

"However, in the case of military retirees who waive retired pay in lieu of VA compensation, the amount of VA compensation that is received is subject to garnishment for court-ordered child support, or in some cases, alimony. Only the amount of compensation equal to the waived retired pay is subject to this garnishment.

"Such garnishments are handled jointly by the VA regional office and the appropriate VA office of regional counsel.

"If there are minor or dependent children of the veteran in the custody of a divorced spouse, an apportionment of VA disability compensation may be awarded to the custodial parent for support of the veterans child(ren)."

Shaft notes

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management is launching FedsHireVets.gov, a critical component of President Obamas veterans employment initiative. This Web site will become the main source for veterans employment information and resources for both veterans and hiring officials. This launch represents phase one of an ongoing effort to help the men and women who have served our country in the military and their families find employment in the federal civil service. You can view the site at www.fedshirevets.gov.

Kudos

Congratulations to the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) and its president, retired Navy Vice Adm. Norb Ryan Jr., who was named Association Executive of the Year by Association Trends, a national trade publication.

The award recognizes Adm. Ryans leadership of MOAA, including effective advocacy on critical military issues, such as the post-9/11 G.I. Bill, military pay and force levels, and meeting the health care needs of military and VA beneficiaries; hosting well-attended symposiums that explored solutions on key military issues; and providing more than $9 million to military children in the form of scholarships and grants, among other accomplishments.

The award will be presented at the Trends Salute to Association Excellence award ceremony at the Capital Hilton Hotel in Washington on Feb. 23.

"This is a big deal in the association community because it is recognition of its own by its own," said Jill Martineau Cornish, executive editor of Trends. This is the first time this award has been given to someone in the military community.

"It is also a big deal to me personally," she said, noting that her father and Trends founder, retired Air Force Col. Frank Martineau, was a member of MOAA. "I am honored to recognize an association executive who has done so much for the military of our country."

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, DC 20035-5900; fax: 301/622-3330; call: 202/257-5446; or e-mail sgtshaft@bavf.org.