Divorced veteran seeks help getting full retirement benefits back

September 10, 2013

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

I have spent more than $12,000 on private attorneys trying to fix what was done to me during my divorce when I was not represented. After spending all that monthly income, which I was able to re-save with my new wife, I cannot afford to pay for more lawyers, as I am now a 100 percent disabled wounded warrior with PTSD.

I applied for and was granted my VA disability money five years after my divorce. My divorce was final in 2006. Here are a few facts to provide background so that you might be able to better answer my three questions.

1. I retired after more than 20 plus years of military service. I am from the Pacific Northwest. My ex-wife is from Texas. Upon retirement, my family and I moved to Texas. Our marriage was a challenging one. I promised to “death do us part.” I wanted to return to the Northwest for family reasons. My job had an opening there. We agreed I would transfer there, start working and that the family would follow. This is relevant as I took nothing but my clothes with me planning that my wife, I will call Daisy, would soon follow me with the children, a moving van with all of our stuff, and savings and the money from the sale of our home.

2. The day after I began driving north, Daisy moved her lawyer boyfriend into my room and bed. My daughter called me very upset. When I spoke to Daisy on the phone, I was already out of state and working. She said she had “changed her mind and wanted a divorce.” Daisy had taken all our savings, so I only had my week-to-week pay from my job to live on and to try to build a new life. Daisy said she would pay for an attorney. In retrospect, I was so depressed and traumatized, I barely had the will to live let alone to fight her on anything else.

3. She took everything. She took our home (although my name is still on the mortgage with the bank and I cannot get it off, as she refuses to refinance). She has ruined my credit, and I have spent the $12,000 trying to get my name off the bank loan since the court gave her the house as property. None of the four attorneys from Texas I hired can or could help me.

4. She wrote the divorce petition herself, as she worked with attorneys. She gave herself half of my military retirement, none of the house, half of the debt and no assets.

5. She has a drug problem and mental illness documented by police reports and hospital holds. She completed at least two previous addiction-treatment programs and is now ordered to do another before she can return to work.

So here are my questions:

1) Since I did not give C-4 approval for the court to give her my retirement, was it legal for her to take half. I tried to fight this, but I had no money for an attorney and lived out of state.

2) Since I am 100 percent military disabled for the last two years, is there any way I can get someone to help me get my full retirement back. I did not agree with her taking it, or the authority of the court to split it up and give it to her?

3.) Due to my disability, does this make me eligible for special services where I could get help from military counsel to get my name off her mortgage before she goes to prison and forces that house to go into default.

My current wife is writing this for me as this matter gets me so triggered, I end up dissociated to where I get too stressed to think or type and then have nightmares after I even try to deal with it. Can you help?

A vet
Via the Internet

Dear vet:

You have complicated legal issues that require legal assistance and court actions.

Legally, military retired pay is considered property of the marriage and available for division between the couple. The divorce court determines the amount each member gets based on the situation. The court can award the ex-spouse any amount of retired pay it deems valid: from 0 percent to 100 percent of retired pay.

Once the court determines the division of retired pay, the government is allowed by law to make a direct payment to the ex-spouse for up to 50 percent of the retired pay amount as long as the marriage and the military service time overlapped by at least 10 years.

If the court awards the ex-spouse more than 50 percent of retired pay, the military retiree must make payment to the ex-spouse for the amount over 50 percent of retired pay.

You need to find legal help. Check with the VA for a referral. Ask your local or county government services office for a referral. Search the Web for veteran’s legal assistance in your state. Ask a nearby military base’s legal office for ideas. Get with a local veteran service office like the American Legion, VFW or Disabled American Veterans to ask about legal services in the local area.

Shaft notes

The 2013 Warrior-Family Symposium (WFS) will be held on Thursday, Sept. 12, at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, D.C.

The event “Mental Health: Linking Warriors and Their Families, Government and Society” is scheduled from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and co-hosted by the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) and the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA). USAA is the executive sponsor of the event.

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.