Supreme Court Rules Against Veteran Disability Pay Being Subject to Divorce Settlement

“Policies can also be incredibly confusing when it comes to receiving both retirement and disability pay.”

On Monday, the high court ruled unanimously in the case of Howell V. Howell that state courts cannot offset the loss of a divorced spouse’s portion of a veteran’s retirement benefits when that veteran waives retirement pay in favor of disability pay.

The case began in 1991, when a court awarded Sandra Howell half of Air Force veteran John Howell’s retirement pay upon divorcing. In 2005, John Howell learned that he was eligible to receive disability compensation from the VA, for which he elected to waive $250 of his taxable retirement pay in favor of $250 non-taxable disability compensation. This reduced his ex-wife’s monthly payment by $125, which infuriated her.

Sandra Howell went back to court, arguing that John Howell should still have to pay the offset amount that he elected to receive in disability. She wanted half of what his retirement pay would have been before Howell opted for disability.

This is incredibly petty, given that the ex-wife didn’t seem to show concern regarding John Howell’s condition that made him eligible for disability compensation to begin with. The only thing that came to mind was how it would effect her in terms of the money she would receive. The Arizona Supreme Court upheld her claim and ruled in her favor, but Monday’s ruling by the Supreme Court overturned Arizona’s ruling.

One thing that gets me is the fact that this lady seriously allowed this case to make it all the way to the United States Supreme Court over $125. I understand times are hard, but come on!

Her lawyer argued that John Howell deliberately made the move to deprive his ex-wife of a whopping $125 a month after he was ordered to pay her half of his retirement. As many veterans know, it can very well take years to recognize eligibility for disability compensation. Seeing how this is a veteran from before 1991, I’m sure the old school “suck it up” adage applied to his military service.

Policies can also be incredibly confusing when it comes to receiving both retirement and disability pay. There are so many veterans who turn to social media groups asking these questions; I know because I am a member of a few Facebook groups where questions regarding this very subject are frequently asked.

It’s inspiring to read that the Supreme Court was completely united on this decision. Hopefully it helps any other veterans who have suffered at the hands of unfair rulings that keep the archaic notion that women should remain dependent on living ex-husbands.

While Sandra Howell fought the good fight, I’m sure John Howell is glad to have this mess behind him. He helped set the precedent for other veterans, who will now enjoy the protection and freedom of choosing how they will be compensated for disabilities without the fear of losing it.


Angelina Newsom

Angelina Newsom is an OpsLens Contributor and U.S. Army Veteran. She has ten years experience in the military, including a deployment to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. She studies Criminal Justice and is still active within the military community.

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