Monday, October 24, 2005

More avoiding the truth about the USFSPA

A reader e-mailed me and tipped me off to the fact that Donald Rumsfeld had a chance to be a hero to victimized affected servicemen and women, but avoided the issue entirely. Evidently during his Town Hall meeting in Korea, a question was asked about the Former Spouse protection act and why DOD still refuses to do the right thing and stick up for the little guy. According to my source, " the question drew a thunderous applause from the crowd, but he dodged it. He[Rumsfeld] ended up saying Congess was not willing to revisit the issue yet". I tried to get a transcript on Defense Link , but it was not posted yet. Hopefully it will be. While he did not have time to get anything meaningful said, he did have time for a photo op though:

Jenifer talks about this event on her blog. She points out the issue:

My question? "Why is military retired pay being treated as a marital
?" Instead, another trooper from across the gym asked that question and
gave a complete monetary assessment of what he was giving to his ex-spouse. Mr.
Secretary's answer? I am aware of that issue, I have been informed about that concern. What I am referring to readers, is the U.S.F.S.P.A. enacted in 1982, by Congress; in essence it is simply this: If you marry somebody while you are in the military and stay married to them for ten years and get divorced, for whatever reason, that ex-spouse gets half of your retirement pay should you make the military a career and successfully retire. This applies even if they remarry. Is it fair? No it isn't.

Damn right its not fair! You will recall back in June when the SECDEF was cornered on this issue
he promised to have Dr Chu take a look at the issue. Anyone who is familar with Dr Chu's record and lack of compasssion knows that "having Dr Chu look at it" is the equivelant of saying, "I'll take your suggestion and stick it in the round file...........". It is the fox guarding the hen house.

Since then has anything been done by Dr Chu? The real answer is nothing. He would dispute that of course, however I will let you be the judge of that by asking you to read this statement by the lady who started the question ball rolling:

Written Statement Prepared for The Defense Department Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS)On October 18th, 2005

By Lieutenant Colonel Patricia M. Larrabee,
U.S. Army

In two minutes, it is impossible to explain the intricacies of the issue I’d like to bring to your attention. I will use a scenario to at least help illustrate a portion of the issue. Two Army Officers marry. At the time of marriage, they both have 5 years of service behind them.After a year and a half of marriage the male decides he no longer wants to be in the military-- as it is not lucrative enough for him. They decide that he will get out of the military and complete a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science (that he has been working on part time for several years) and then pursue a Master of Science degree in Software Engineering. He attends school full time without employment for over three years. During those three years, the female officer commands a company, continues to work on her master’s degree after duty hours and has their first child. The male then enters the civilian workforce. Shortly after, he decides he wants to pursue an MBA and begins taking night courses. Upon reassignment to another state, the male spouse stays behind and takes another six months off from employment to finish his MBA, while the female officer makes the move to the new state alone with their two-year-old child. She again provides the only support for the family—but, this time in two different states. They soon have a second child. Although the male has gone from making approximately $32k per year to making $100k per year over the course of their 9 year marriage—largely due to the schooling and support he receives-- the male feels that the Army is “holding him back”. They agree to divorce. The marriage ends at nine years. In a routine divorce proceeding, the male spouse is granted 22.5% of her retirement; which she has to continue to work for another six years before earning. The female officer is ordered to begin payments at 20 years of service, whether she chooses to retire at that time or not and continue these payments until her death. This court order effectively ends her career as
she will not be able to afford to pay him out of her monthly military pay while supporting her two young children. The female officer was blind-sided in the courtroom. In her 14 years of service, there was never any information provided by the Army to educate her of such a possibility.

This is my story. The issue is the Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act (USFSPA) that was passed by Congress in 1982.

As I began to research this issue, I found that there were already over 250,000 military members who suffered from this unfair law before me. These victims include: male, female; regular force, retirees, national guard and reserve military members.

But how can that be? It appears that only those of us who have gone through a divorce know the true affects that this unfair law can impose on us. Everyone else seems to believe certain “myths”about the law and its affects.

Is it possible that our senior leaders are unaware of the negative affects on our service members of this unfair law?

In the Defense Department World Wide Town Hall meeting on 29 June 2005, I used my personal example to illustrate to Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and GEN Myers the unfairness of the USFSPA to military service members and to point out that it is causing retention issues.

Mr. Rumsfeld was unaware of this law and stated, “I’ve never heard of it.” However, GEN Myers was familiar with the law and stated that it was an “old” law put into place for “different times…when spouses were normally women…and when they probably did not work…” Mr. Rumsfeld’s public response to me on the 29th of June was that he would have “Dr. Chu look at it”. GEN Myers agreed that was necessary. Seven weeks later, I received a letter from one of Dr. Chu’s subordinates stating that the “Department of Defense is fully aware” of the issue and citing the USFSPA 2001 Report to Congress that his office prepared. This report was in response to a 1998 directive from Congress and took three years to complete—two years later than directed.

Who in DoD is aware of this issue and its affects on the military subordinates? If the report was dated in 2001, then why had Mr. Rumsfeld not heard of it in June of 2005? When reviewing the report, I realized that it contained no stated leadership position indicating that Mr.
Rumsfeld had no influence on its content. The report is completely devoid of any leadership concerns for the recruiting, retention, or welfare of the military members. In fact, the report reduced this very important issue to a “staff action.” The whole report appears to be an exercise in reaching a consensus on a list of issues. Since when do we lead our military by consensus?

Why was such an important report, which was specifically requested by Congress to be prepared and submitted by the Secretary of Defense, not endorsed by the Secretary of Defense himself? If Mr. Rumsfeld did not approve the final report, who in DoD approved it? How do we know that Mr. Rumsfeld, as our Secretary of Defense and senior Civilian Department of Defense leader, agrees with the consensus’ reached and final report prepared and submitted by the staff?

One of the very first and basic principals we learn as second lieutenants is to take care of our subordinates. In other words, look out for their personal welfare. How can our leaders look out for our welfare if they are not in touch with the issues that affect us?

Although many believe that USFSPA was originally well intentioned, it has turned into a discriminatory law working against military members and their families. This law is actually providing incentive for non-supportive spouses to abandon their marriages and take half of what the
military member has worked for toward retirement. GEN Myers is right. The USFSPA is outdated. Its original intent was to ensure that spouses who had no opportunities for careers of their own were not left with nothing in the event of a divorce. The times have changed. The military services have facilitated higher education opportunities for these spouses world-wide; families are stabilized for longer periods of time allowing spouses to get educations and jobs; and family members are given priority for filling government jobs all over the world. Women have come a long way in achieving their own career goals. It is time that we move into the 21st century and restore the rights of our military members to what they originally contracted for when they joined the military. Ex-spouses of military members have the same rights in divorce courts as those married to civilian members of this country. Why should these ex-spouses be “rewarded” with life time payments automatically for “calling it quits” on the service member? The service member must successfully serve 20 years to get these retirement payments for life. What does the ex-spouse have to do? He/she must simply marry a service member and then divorce the service member—no questions asked! It is time to stop forcing military men and women to support their ex-spouses until their deaths!

Many women have worked hard to gain career opportunities over the past 30 or so years. Why must those of us who actually work hard for a career have to pay the price for those who choose not to have a career? For those women, we have State laws that protect them in their divorces. As they get older, they can file on their ex-husband’s social security—just as every other civilian woman who chooses not to pursue a career.

I formally request that DACOWITS take this issue and fully study the affects on the service members and families. We have had 23 years of mistreatment in divorce court proceedings against service members
because of a bad law. In this time of War, the Department of Defense leadership owes it to those who fight for this nation to study this issue. We need the leadership to learn the issues, understand the issues, and then make decisions that are in the best interest of the National Security of this nation.

Let us not forget that famous quote by George Washington, “The willingness with which our young people are to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by our nation.”
Smart lady. I think this statement she says everything the SECDEF could and should say in a letter to the Congress urging them to scrap the law or at the least, reform its most heinous provisions. Congress not ready to take it on? Maybe, but no one has given them the opportunity in 3 years. Also if key figures in this administration would lend their weight to this effort, one might see better results. And it costs DOD nothing to do so, however it costs them everything in the respect of those of us who are victimized by the cruel and useless law.

Its a testament to the cynic in me that thinks, "maybe that is what this will take.....make this a woman's issue and someone in DOD will pay attention to it. God forbid we could do something to improve the lot of men in the service! " For 20 years men have been saying exactly the same thing as LT COL Larabee says. To deaf ears. Those of you who have read my writing for a while know that I am no friend of DACOWITS or its feminist agenda. But I am a pragmatist. If this will get the wheels turning, then OK I'll live with. After all, DOD never says no to anything DACOWITS proposes...........

This question in Korea though, does point out another thing that might help get this evil law undone. This should be a question that comes up at every Q&A forum the SECDEF does. Anyplace, anytime. Bloggers can help spread the word. Perhaps if the Secretary hears the same question and the tales of misery repeated often enough, he and the rest of the powers that be will become more and more convinced it is an issue they can no longer hide from.

There is one other thing that each and every one of us, active duty or retired can do and no one in DOD can stop us: Write your Congressman! It is the right of every serviceman or woman to write their elected representatives. It cannot be taken away. However your retirement can. So if Congress "is not ready" then lets all help them get ready!



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