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Supreme Court Decision May Seriously Impact Ex-Military Spouses

divorce

By Debbie Gregory.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision that may have serious implications for the former spouses of veterans.

In Howell v. Howell , the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a veteran who believed he did not owe his ex-wife 20% of his disability 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.

Former Airman John Howell believed that he did not have to consider his disability pay as part of divisible assets in his 1991 divorce from wife Sarah. At the time of the divorce, John’s upcoming pension was considered a “marital asset” under Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA) and split 50-50 with his former spouse

At issue was whether the USFSPA pre-empted a state court’s order directing a veteran to indemnify a former spouse for a reduction in the former spouse’s portion of the veteran’s military retirement pay, when that reduction results from the veteran’s post-divorce waiver of retirement pay in order to receive compensation for a service-connected disability.

When John received a 20 percent disability rating in 2005 from the Department of Veterans Affairs for a service-connected degenerative joint disease in his shoulder, he elected to waive a portion of his monthly retirement pay under pension offset rules, about $250, in order to receive his full monthly VA award. The result, however, was that Sandra’s portion of the pension went down by about $125 a month.

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.

While a series of state courts agreed that even if John’s retirement pay had been reduced, Sandra still deserved half of what his retirement pay would have been without the disability benefits, the Supreme Court did not, citing Mansell v. Mansell.

In Mansell v. Mansell, the Court found that the federal USFSPA 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.

This ruling could have serious implications for ex-spouses, most affecting those who were married to veterans with 50% disability ratings or less.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Battling Together: Fisher House Provides Veterans a Place to Recover with Family at their Side

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By Debbie Gregory.

More than 3.8 million U.S. veterans are living with a service-related disability. Of those, 1.1 million have a disability rating of 70% or higher. These men and women will need medical care the rest of their lives, and when that happens, their families want two things: the best medical care possible and to be by their loved one’s side.

The Fisher House Foundation is probably best known for the network of 70 comfort homes where family members can stay while a military or veteran loved one is receiving medical treatment. The comfort homes are located at major military and VA medical centers throughout the country.

Military spouse Minie Curry was tending to the home fires, while her husband, Army Sergeant Anson Curry, served two tours, one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. In 2011, a grenade exploded in his bunker, causing him to suffer severe and permanent brain damage. Minie has been by his side every day since.

“It’s for better or for worse and I told him you are not fighting this fight alone. This is our fight. I keep telling him it’s not your battle, it’s our battle,” said Minie.

While Anson was rehabilitating at the VA Polytrauma Center, Minie and other members of the Curry family lived at the Palo Alto Fisher House for more than nine months. To give Minie brief respite, Fisher House flew family members through its Hero Miles Program to Palo Alto to be with Anson.

Minie said that she made a promise to God: if he spared Anson’s life, she would be there to take care of him.

“So I owe God. And I thank God every day. But as determined as I was to be there for Anson, I just don’t know how I would have done that without the Fisher House. I would have let both Anson and God down. I am so thankful for my beautiful home at Palo Alto. So thankful for Fisher House.”

“Even when Anson was at his very worst, Minie never gave up,” said Christian Curry, Anson’s brother. “I believe that every step Anson has taken was because Minie was there to encourage and love him. Without a Fisher House, that never would have happened. I really don’t know where Anson would be today, quite frankly, if Minie had not been staying right across the street.”

Four years later, the Curry family now lives in San Antonio, and Minie cares for 90 percent of Anson’s needs, while also taking care of her three children, two of whom have special needs.

“There have been many struggles and challenges. I won’t lie. But there have also been the small pleasures of life that make it worth the fight. While it may seem repetitious to others, it is not to me because all Anson has to do is smile when I enter the room and all the work, all the effort, all the sacrifice is worth it.”

Fisher House Foundation helps to ensure families can be there in times of greatest need because it believes that “a family’s love is good medicine.” MilitaryConnection.com is proud to support the great work that Fisher House Foundation does.