- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Dear Sgt Shaft:

I am in the middle of a divorce after 18 years of marriage. I receive service-connected disability from the VA from when I was in the Army. My wife and I were not married when I was in the service or when I started to receive my disability payments. I am now 100 percent disabled and unable to work. My wife has been working full time for the same company for the last 16 years.

In the divorce, she is asking to receive half of my disability payments for maintenance. Is there any federal law that states my disability cannot be used for maintenance?

I have a brother who served 23 years in the Marines and was married for the last 17 years of his enlistment. When he divorced last year, his wife was given a portion of his pension but was told she is not entitled to any of his disability payments. I would appreciate any help you can give me.

Thank you,
Gary P.
Via the Internet

Dear Gary,

There are currently no provisions for payment of any portion of a veteran’s 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 were any minor or dependent children of the veteran in the custody of a divorced spouse, an apportionment of VA disability compensation could be awarded to the custodial parent for support of the veterans child or children.

Individuals can file a claim for an apportionment by filling out VA Form 21-0788, which can be found at http://www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-21-0788-ARE.pdf .

Shaft notes

• The FRA Education Foundation is proud to announce its scholarship recipients for 2011. The foundation will award more than $124,000 to 30 deserving students who are pursuing higher education in the 2011-2012 academic year. More than 230 students applied for the annual scholarship program, in which recipients are selected based on financial need, academic standing, character and leadership qualities.

The foundation was established in 2009 to administer the Fleet Reserve Association’s (FRA‘s) growing scholarship program. In its second full year, the foundation has been able to increase the number and total cash value of its awards and is working to expand its efforts even further.

“The FRA Education Foundation is a continuation of FRA’s long-standing tradition of helping students reach their educational and professional goals,” said Joe Barnes, FRA’s national executive director and a member of the foundation’s Board of Directors. “The scholarships are funded through private donations, corporate sponsorships and established trusts, and we’re grateful for the generous gifts that make it possible to present these scholarships to service members, veterans and their family members.”

All current and former members of the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard are eligible to apply for foundation scholarships, and members of the FRA, their spouses, children and grandchildren qualify for a broader range of awards, several of which are funded through member legacy donations. Applications for FRA’s 2012-2013 scholarships will be available at www.fra.org/foundation after Sept. 1, 2011.
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The foundation partners with military and education professionals to promote lifelong learning opportunities that help scholars reach their educational, professional and personal goals. To learn more, visit www.fra.org/foundation or call 703-683-1400.

• In the first study to compare survival associated with bariatric surgery in mostly male patients, bariatric surgery was not significantly associated with decreased mortality, according to a research study published in the June 15 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The bariatric surgery study compared mortality rates for 850 obese veterans who had received the procedure at one of 12 VA bariatric surgery centers between 2000 and 2006. These veterans were considered to be “high-risk” due to older age and greater weight in comparison to more than 41,000 obese veterans who had not received bariatric surgery, but had used VA outpatient services. The study also compared mortality rates for 847 obese veterans who had received bariatric surgery and 847 matched obese veterans who had not received bariatric surgery. Patients were followed for nearly seven years.

“By evaluating one important treatment option for obesity, this study represents another significant advance in defining best care approaches for those who entrust their health to VA,” said Dr. Robert A. Petzel, VA’s Under Secretary for Health.

“Significant weight loss results in improved disease control and quality of life for patients, so there are many reasons why patients like those in our study may still want to undergo bariatric surgery,” said Dr. Matthew Maciejewski, the study’s lead investigator and part of the Health Services Research and Development Center for Health Services Research in Durham, N.C. “Also, other studies, conducted on different patient populations, have found bariatric surgery to be associated with reduced mortality and have also suggested that survival benefits from surgery-induced weight loss may take longer than six years to become evident.”

Dr. Joel Kupersmith, VA’s chief Research and Development officer, said VA considers all associated evidence in any policy decision, but notes this is just one study.

“It is by conducting leading-edge research studies such as this one on bariatric surgery, and evaluating the meaning in the context of all rigorous scientific evidence, that VA Research provides the foundation for optimal veterans’ health care,” he said.

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