- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Lawmakers say it’s worth considering giving the military power to strip service members of their pensions after Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair was acquitted of sex assault but convicted of lesser charges, leading to a sentence some in Congress said was too light for what he was accused of.

Brig. Gen. Sinclair, a former top commander in Afghanistan accused of forcible rape and sodomy, will retire Aug. 1 as a lieutenant colonel after being demoted two ranks and pleading guilty to charges of adultery and an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate. He served no jail time and was sent into retirement, where he will continue to collect the pension he earned over his 27-year career in the Army.

Army Secretary John M. McHugh said the punishment is fair, and said the law binds his hands and prevents him from stripping the general’s pension — though he said Congress could change the law if it wanted.

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“During Capitol Hill hearings, I was asked whether Sinclair would receive a pension after proceedings were complete,” Mr. McHugh said in an Army release. “Under federal law, if a person has earned a pension because of their years of service, they are entitled to those benefits. Congress might consider a change in the law that would allow greater flexibility and accountability.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat, said that was worth considering, according to her office. She would like to see a detailed report from the Pentagon on the proposal, a staffer said.

Brig. Gen. Sinclair will still receive more than $6,000 a month, though that’s more than $2,800 a month less than he would have received if he’d been allowed to retire as a brigadier general, according to an Army spokesman.

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Greg Jacob, policy director at the Service Women’s Action Network, said giving a commander power to cancel a pension might be putting too much control in one person’s hands. He suggested allowing military members to sue for damages in civilian courts, which he said could end up exacting a hefty financial penalty from their attackers.

“Normally in the civilian sector, you’d take a guy like Sinclair, there’d be civil actions taken against him that would result in judgments that could actually consume the bulk of a person’s monetary pension for the number of years he has to pay out whatever was awarded,” Mr. Jacob said. “Because members of the military don’t have access to civilian courts, that’s not an option.”

Military juries may be less likely to take away a pension because they figure they’re punishing not only the service member, but also his family, by stripping the benefits, said Joyce Raezer, executive director of the National Military Family Association. The spouse and children also will have spent 20-plus years moving around the country, suffering through long deployments and living a life ruled by the military.

“Many times the military spouse has not been able to progress in her career and save for her own retirement, they’ve moved a lot, so the couple has never bought a house, they don’t have the saved equity in something that people who’ve been able to remain in one place have,” Ms. Raezer said. “For a lot of these couples, this military pension is their biggest asset.”

In fact, under the Former Spouse Protection Act, a member of the military’s pension can be treated as joint property by the court in a divorce and divided between the husband and wife, Ms. Raezer said

Still, she said going after a pension is rarely an option because only about a quarter of officers and even fewer enlisted troops serve until they are retirement eligible. For most service members convicted of sexual assault, losing a pension wouldn’t even be a possible punishment because they hadn’t served long enough to earn it, she said.

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