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New Supreme Court Decision Has Serious Implications For Ex-Military Spouses
A U.S. Supreme Court decision handed down on May 15 may have serious implications for former spouses of veterans, despite providing clarity regarding disability pay from the Department of Veterans Affairs. In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court sided in favor of a veteran who believed he did not owe his ex-wife 20% of that pay, and ruled that state courts cannot order veterans to pay divorced spouses for the loss of his or her retirement pay caused by service-related disability benefits.
The ruling on Howell v. Howell — a case in which former Airman John Howell hoped to prove he did not have to consider his disability pay as part of divisible assets in divorce — clarifies that disability pay is not divisible as community property.
“We’re pleased with the Supreme Court’s ruling in this case,” said VFW National Commander Brian Duffy in a statement. “This will, hopefully, provide some much needed consistency across the country and ensure some certainty for veterans.”
In 1991, John and his wife Sandra got divorced. During the proceedings, the Arizona Superior Court granted Sandra half of John’s military retirement plan funds, which he would begin receiving once he separated. A year later, he retired and the money was split down the middle until 2005, per the terms of the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act — an act that requires military retirement payments to be divided evenly between spouses in a military divorce.
Thirteen years after the payouts began, the Department of Veterans Affairs diagnosed John with a service-connected degenerative joint disease in his shoulder. The condition rendered him 20% disabled, and therefore entitled him to disability benefits. This money is untaxed, but also must be substituted out as a proportion out of his military retirement plan.
Essentially, John gave up $250 of his $1,500 a month in retirement pay so that he could receive the same amount in disability benefits. His decision cost Sandra $125 a month, so she sued him in 2013.
In court, Sandra argued that even if John’s retirement pay had been reduced, she still deserves half of what his retirement pay would have been without the disability benefits. The state courts agreed.
But John brought the case to the Supreme Court, which reversed that ruling, siding with John. The court held that its previous decision in Mansell v. Mansell prevents state courts from considering the waived portion of military retirement pay as a community asset in divorce proceedings.
In Mansell v. Mansell, the Court found that the federal Uniformed Services Former Spouses' Protection Act exempts disability pay as a portion of the retirement pay that a service member waived in order to receive disability benefits from the amount divisible upon divorce.
According to Matthew Randle, a divorce lawyer in Arizona, this ruling could have serious implications for ex-spouses, most affecting those who were married to veterans with 50% disability ratings or less. Through concurrent retirement and disability pay, retirees with a 50% or higher disability rating receive both 100% military retirement pay and VA disability pay. Ex-spouses in those cases will still be compensated at the same rate, while those with veteran ex-spouses with less could see up to half of their alimony taken away under the Supreme Court ruling.
“This is a double-edged sword,” Randle said. “Family courts can and should consider that this could happen and find ways to do offsets in community property division in other places.”
In delivering the ruling, Justice Stephen Breyer mentioned that the federal statute may make life difficult for former military spouses like Sandra, according to SCOTUSblog. However, the Supreme Court does not have the jurisdiction to determine what is owed to a former spouse, that power lies with the state. He added that the lower courts could try to account for the possibility that a veteran may later waive a part of his or her retirement pay for disability benefits or recalculate spousal support based on later changes in circumstances.
Once again, the United States and the Taliban are apparently close to striking a peace deal. Such a peace agreement has been rumored to be in the works longer than the latest "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" sequel. (The difference is Keanu Reeves has fewer f**ks to give than U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.)
Both sides appeared to be close to reaching an agreement in September until the Taliban took credit for an attack that killed Army Sgt. 1st Class Elis A. Barreto Ortiz, of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. That prompted President Donald Trump to angrily cancel a planned summit with the Taliban that had been scheduled to take place at Camp David, Maryland, on Sept. 8.
Now Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen has told a Pakistani newspaper that he is "optimistic" that the Taliban could reach an agreement with U.S. negotiators by the end of January.
75 years ago, Audie Murphy earned his Medal of Honor with nothing but a burning tank destroyer's .50 cal and insane bravery
Editor's note: a version of this post first appeared in 2018
On January 26, 1945, the most decorated U.S. service member of World War II earned his legacy in a fiery fashion.
Florida senators are pushing for Purple Hearts for service members wounded in the NAS Pensacola shooting
Florida's two senators are pushing the Defense Department to award Purple Hearts to the U.S. service members wounded in the December shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola.
The Navy Department is in the middle of a new force-structure review, which could change the number and types of ships the sea services say they'll need to fight future conflicts. But instead of trying to project what they will need three decades out, which has been the case in past assessments, acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said the services will take a shorter view.
"I don't know what the threat's going to be 30 years from now, but if we're building a force structure for 30 years from now, I would suggest we're probably not building the right one," he said Friday at a National Defense Industrial Association event.
The Navy completed its last force-structure assessment in 2016. That 30-year plan called for a 355-ship fleet.
When Oscar Jesus Temores showed up to work at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story each day, his colleagues in base security knew they were in for a treat.
Temores was a master-at-arms who loved his job and cracking corny jokes.
"He just he just had that personality that you can go up to him and talk to him about anything. It was goofy and weird, and he always had jokes," said Petty Officer 3rd Class Derek Lopez, a fellow base patrolman. "Sometimes he'd make you cry from laughter and other times you'd just want to cringe because of how dumb his joke was. But that's what made him more approachable and easy to be around."
That ability to make others laugh and put people at ease is just one of the ways Temores is remembered by his colleagues. It has been seven weeks since the 23-year-old married father of one was killed when a civilian intruder crashed his pickup truck into Temores' vehicle at Fort Story.