The Former SpousesTen Commandments for Retrieving “Lost” Pension Benefits :How to get back what is rightfully yours.
Early this week I overheard a conversation between two Military retirees, as follows:One retiree complained; “Man, I be doing just fine if I didn’t have to split my retirement pay with that undeserving “B—Ch, that I should have never married. “ The other retiree stated; Oh! I used to have the same problem, until one DFAS told me to apply for a waiver of military retired pay in exchange for VA disability compensation and that exactly what I did. I elected VA disability compensation and agrees to waive $800 of longevity retired pay.
The complaining retiree asked; “What is the benefit of electing a portion of your retired salary to be paid a VA disability benefit? The wise retireestated; ”This means because I elected to waive a portion of my retirement pay in lieu of VA disability benefit, there is a reduction, in my case $800 subtracted from my gross retired pay, leading to a reduction in the amount available for division as a percentage of DRP with my ex-wife. “ “In other words, my ex-wife half share is reduced from $1,000 a month to $600 a month, since I am now is receiving half of $1,200 a month ($2,000 -$800). I now receive $600 a month (300.00), plus my untouchable, nontaxable VA disability payment of $800!”
Well, That coversation just "blew my mind". Can you imagine how a decrease of two, three or four hundred dollars amonth in support payment will impact the household of the divorce military spouse? In light of this issue, I have dedicated this week article to the re-education of former military spouses . So ladies and gentlemen listen to the song that is linked to this article as you read the ten commandments for retrieving lost military pension benefits.
The law allows a retiree to elect an amount of tax -free disability compensation only if he gives up the same amount of retired pay. Taking this option is always beneficial to the military retiree, since it yields an increase in net income because of the non-taxable aspect of VA (Department of Veterans Affairs) disability compensation. Steve Chucala, the Chief of Client Services, Ft. Belvoir, adds the following: “The election concerning VA tax-free compensation requires some clarification due to the Various categories of soldier separations from military service. The following serves to clarify most issues presented since the option to elect VA compensation depends upon the status of the soldier at the time of discharge.” Service members who terminate active service prior to regular retirement or retire without any disability compensation from the armed forces, and who subsequently are awarded disability compensation by the VA, automatically receive tax-free compensation.
There is no election involved since all payments are from the VA only. If a SM is awarded severance pay (normally where the percentage of disability is less than 30% and the soldier is not retirement eligible as those on active duty with 20 years of service or is a Reservist not eligible for age 60 retirement), he accepts the severance pay without any options. Should this SM subsequently be awarded additional VA disability compensation, the amount previously awarded as severance pay is deducted from the VA compensation amount.
If a SM is retired either on TDRL (temporary disability retirement list) or PDRL (permanent disability retirement list) and is later is awarded VA compensation, DFAS offers the option of keeping the military disability pay or accepting the VA tax-free payments as a dollar-for-dollar offset. However it is taken, this election usually wreaks havoc when the retiree’s pension is subject to a garnishment order for part of “disposable retired pay” in favor of a former spouse due to separation or divorce. As soon as the election takes place at DFAS, the former spouse usually sees her share of divisible retired pay decrease, sometimes substantially.
Thus if the military retiree, John Doe, had disposable retired pay (without disability) of $1,500 per month and his disability were evaluated as equivalent to $1,000 per month in VA benefits, he could waive the same amount of taxable longevity pension in order to receive this amount tax-free. His monthly benefit would still total $1,500, but only $500 of this would be subject to taxes if he makes this choice. In addition, only this $500 which remains of his military pension would be subject to division with Mary Doe, his ex-wife.
The Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act exempts VA disability compensation from the definition of “disposable retired pay.” So if the military pension division order had given Mary 40% of John’s disposable retired pay, her per-waiver share would have been $600 a month (40% X $1,500), but her post-waiver amount would be only $200 (40% X $500). Especially when rent or mortgage payments depend on the continued receipt of a stable, predictable amount of divided military retired pay, such a VA waiver by the military retiree can be catastrophic.
For those who have at least 20 years of qualifying military service and a VA disability rating of at least 50%, CRDP authorizes a ten-year phased elimination of the VA offset. Put in positive terms, this means – unless the disability rating is 100% – a ten-year period in which the retiree will gain back every dollar of the waived retired pay that he exchanged for VA disability compensation. The disability does not have to be combat-related. CRDP is the return of waived pension payments, so it has the attributes of those pension payments. It is taxable compensation. It also is divisible with a former spouse under a military pension division order.
The eligible retiree will see his retirement pay increase each year until the phase-in period is complete in 2014, when the retiree will be receiving an additional amount that is equal to the amount of retired pay waived. The period of phase-in began in 2004, with the following initial amounts provided in 2004 as additional military retired pay in each month’s retiree payment:
How Much CRDP?
An Example to illustrate, use the hypothetical facts in our scenario above with John Doe entitled to $1,500 retired pay. We will ignore annual cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs). John has waived $1,000 due to VA disability
compensation. If his disability rating were 60%, here’s how his payments would grow:In 2003, he was receiving $500 retired pay and $1,000 VA disability compensation. In 2004, he receives total retired pay of $625 ($500 + $125, the 2004 amount for a 60% disability rating shown above). There is still $875 remaining in retired pay waiver ($1,000 - $125). He still receives $1,000 in VA compensation.
In 2005, he receives $700 in total retired pay. This is made up of $625, the prior year amount, plus 10% of the difference between $875, his remaining retired pay waiver amount, and $125, the 2004 amount shown on the table above. (Let’s check: $875 - 125= $750. $750 X 10% = $75. $625 + $75 = $700). He is still receiving his VA payment of $1,000 a month in addition to this. This process continues onward until full restoration of the waived $1,000 at 2014.
Verifying Receipt of CRDP
CRDP increases the pension of the retiree effective January of each year, with the payment arriving on or about February 1. How will you know if John is getting CRDP? Just read the comment at the “MESSAGE SECTION” on page 2 of his Retiree Account Statement (RAS), Form DFAS-CL 7220/148 It will look like this: MESSAGE SECTION BASED ON INFORMATION RECEIVED FROM THE VA, YOUR CRDP AMOUNT IS $____.
If the individual will not voluntarily produce his RAS, which is usually sent to him or her by e-mail from DFAS every time there is a change of pay and also posted on a secure DFAS website (see below); counsel may resort to formal discovery procedures if the matter is in litigation. DFAS will honor a request for documents so long as it is in the form of a court order or a subpoena signed by a judge. Send the order or subpoena, with the individual’s full name and Social Security Number (SSN), to: Defense Finance and Accounting Service DFAS- Cleveland Center Records Retrieval (Code HAC) 1240 East 9 Street, Room 2679 Cleveland, OH 44199-2055, fax 216-522-6530. There is no requirement that the subpoena or order be sent by certified mail.
Don’t Take “NO” for an Answer
Sometimes the attorney for the retiree will disavow an y knowledge of the existence of an RAS, or the retiree will claim that it was lost, misplaced, or “floated away in that big flood last month.” You should know that all military retirees are eligible for a free “my-pay” account at the DFAS website. This secure website is found at https://mypay.dfas.mil
. .Once there, it is a simple matter for a military retiree to obtain his current RAS; he just enters his “LogIn ID” and password, go to the screen marked “Your Military Retiree Pay Account,” and select “Retiree Account Statement (RAS).” Phoenix attorney Mike McCarthy, a retired Air Force Reserve brigadier general says that he has had some success in getting an order requiring both attorneys and the retiree to use a computer to access the current or past RAS from the myPay website. Retirees receive the following e-mail message at the end of each December (a fictitious ending with X’s is shown below):
Your electronic W2 for 2005 isavailable on my-pay at https://mypay.dfas.mil/mypay.aspx?xxxxxXXX~XXXXX
The Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) implemented the my-pay web-based system in March 2000. my-pay delivers pay information and lets you process pay-related transactions timely, safely and securely. The Web-based system reduces the risks of identity theft associated with postal delivery by allowing members to access electronic W2, LES and other financial information. my-pay matches industry standards for the highest level of encryption and security to protect myPay users. If you do not have a PIN for accessing my-pay, you can obtain one via email by clicking on New PIN button on the my-pay website at the web address shown above. A temporary PIN will be emailed to your official email address. If you have any questions concerning myPay, please call our contact center toll free at 1-800-390-2348. If the information posted to your W-2 is incorrect, please contact your servicing pay office or your customer service representative for assistance.
Another method of finding out the retiree’s deductions is to ask DFAS. A little-known notice in the Federal Register makes this possible. Effective July 13, 2000, DFAS announced at 65 FR 43298 that it would disclose this information to a former spouse. In addition to those disclosures generally permitted under 5 U.S.C. 552a (b) of the Privacy Act, these records or information contained therein may specifically be disclosed outside the DoD as a routine use pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 552a (b) (3) asfollows: To former spouses, who receive payments under 10 U.S.C. 1408, for purposes of providing information on how their payment was calculated to include what items were deducted from the member's gross pay and the dollar amount for each deduction.
While it may be difficult to obtain sometimes if the person at DFAS responding to the written request is a newly hired GS-6 employee who doesn’t know about this rule, diligence and courtesy will get the former spouse through to someone in authority who will be able to assist. Be sure to include in the written request from the former spouse full identifying information on the retireee (name and SSN), the SSN for the former spouse and – if appropriate – an authorization for DFAS to provide the information to the attorney for the former spouse. The request might look like this: Defense Finance and AccountingService DFAS- Cleveland Center Records Retrieval (Code HAC) 1240 East 9thStreet, Room 2679 Cleveland, OH 44199-2055 Fax 216-522-6530.
Pursuant to the Privacy Act Routine Use set out at 65 Fed Register 43298, I hereby request that you provide to me information on the current gross retired pay, current deductions and dollar amount for each deduction used in calculating my share of the pension in regard to my former husband, John Q. Doe, SSN 987- 77-6543. My former spouse payments were calculated under 10 USC 1408. [OPTIONAL: I authorize you to provide this information to my attorney, Lucinda Lopez, Lopez and Pasquale, LLP, 123 Green Street, Apex, NC 27566] ____/s/____ Mary P. Doe SSN 234-56-7899
The average response time is several weeks. To check on the status of a request, call 216-522-5046 and be sure to have the retiree’s SSN available.
AFew More Rules
CRDP includes Chapter 61 medical retirees and Guard/Reserve members with 20 or more “good years” toward retirement. CRDP cannot exceed gross retired pay. The National Defense Authorization Act of 2005 eliminated the nine-year phase-in for full concurrent receipt payments to eligible retirees rated as totally disabled (military disability pay and VA disability pay), as of January 1,2005. Mary Doe, the former spouse, should have been receiving payments of pension division from DFAS since her ex-husband’s disability rating was less than 100% and he was still receiving some retired pay. In this situation, no new application is needed since her pension division order is “in the system” at DFAS. She begins receiving increased pension payments from DFAS due to the increased pension that John Doe is now receiving.
If, however, a former spouse has not been receiving payments because the retiree has a disability rating of 100%, then her attorney should submit the paperwork anew, including the divorce decree, military pension division order and DD Form 2293. Fax the request to: DFAS at 216-522-6960 or mail it toDFAS-GAG/CL, PO Box 998002, Cleveland, OH44199-8002.
Garnishment for pension division through DFAS will be for current retired pay division. There is no authority for DFAS to garnish for pension division arrears. CRDP will go a long way toward ameliorating the unfairness of unilateral changes in military pension division orders by retirees who, after the fact, obtain VA disability compensation and thus reduce the share of the former spouse. It will not, however, eliminate the problem entirely. Since it exempts those individuals whose disability rating is less than 50%, and it puts off full restoration until 2014 in most cases, the problem will remain to some extent and may be addressed by means of the other tools and options covered in Military Pension Division: The Spouse’s Strategy. CRSC ExplainedCombat-Related Special Compensation (CRSC) is a benefit provided by Congress for those who have a combat-related disability of at least 10% under certain conditions.
The Defense Department estimates that about 200,000 military retirees will be eligible for CRSC. The disability is considered to be combat -related under 10 U.S.C. §1413a (e) if it – (1) is attributable to an injury for which the member was awarded the Purple Heart; or (2) was incurred (as determined under criteria prescribed by the Secretary of Defense)— (A) as a direct result of armed conflict; (B)while engaged in hazardous service; (C) in the performance of duty under conditions simulating war; or (D) through an instrumentality of war.
These qualifications include, by way of example, injury or illness resulting from actual combat, simulations of war (e.g., gas mask training, field training exercises, direct-fire training and “confidence courses”), hazardous duty such as diving or parachuting, and instrumentalities of war (e.g., tanks, artillery, machine guns, military planes). These conditions are defined at §6302 of the CRSC regulations in the DoDFMR. There is further general information on CRSC at www.hrc.army.mil/site/crsc/hrc.army.mil/site/crsc/. Since “combat-related” is service-specific, the application is sent to the retiree’s branch of service, not to the Department of Defense. CRSC is not longevity retired pay; it is an additional form of compensation for certain members of the armed forces. 10 U.S.C. §1413a (g) states that “[p]payments under this section are not retired pay.” Thus payments are not divisible as property.
The CRSC rates come from the VA tables and increase with the number of a retiree’s dependents (spouse, spouse and child, etc.). Thus, to use a May 2006 example, the rate for a 10% disability, no dependents, is $112 a month. The no-dependents rate for a 20% disability rating is $218 per month. The amount goes up to a total of $2,844 for maximum dependents and a 100% disability rating.
CRSC Twists and Turns
Once a CRSC application is approved, DFAS (in its infinite wisdom) does the calculations and the decision-making for the retiree. Since one cannot receive both CRDP and CRSC, DFAS automatically makes the election for whichever is most financially advantageous, in that it yields the highest net cash flow. DFAS doesn’t take into account that the retiree may have a property division garnishment in effect. If CRDP is more favorable in gross dollars, then that’s what DFAS will choose. This means that, for example: if CRSC in a particular case were $500 and CRDP for the same year were $501, then DFAS would choose CRDP for the is taxable and subject to a garnishment division with the ex-spouse.
The potential hardships for former spouses due to CRSC elections are remarkable. Phoenix practitioner Mike McCarthy writes: First example: Assume an Air Force tech serge ant with 20 years of creditable service; 100% VA disability rating, all of it combat-related, former spouse to receive 43% of the disposable retired pay as property division. He receives $2,979 VA disability compensation and waives ALL of his $1,299 gross military retired pay. In ret urn, he receives $1,299 in CRSC payments. Thus he gets $4,278 per month tax-free. His ex-wife gets her share, 43%, of the pension, but the pension at this point is ZERO. She gets nothing; she haslost $558 per month.
On the other hand, if the CRSC election does not remove all the pension share garnishment, then the former spouse will still be subject to a collection action by DFAS. DFAS will recoup the “overpaid” funds from her or him, resulting in decreased future payments until the indebtedness is fully paid; this is ordinarily done over a 36-month period. This former spouse may also petition for waiver of this indebtedness.
Here are some final points about CRSC: •There is no phase-in for CRSC; eligible retirees w ill receive full CRSC payments plus whatever VA disability compensation and unwaived retired pay they had been receiving. •CRSC payments don’t end in 2014, as CRDP payments do. •The CRSC payment cannot exceed the amount of the military retired pay waived for VA disability compensation. •Unlike ordinary retired pay (including CRDP), CRSC is non-taxable - it is disability compensation, not retired pay. •CRSC is available for support determinations and for garnishment for alimony and child support. This is also true of CRDP.
Resources Mark E. Sullivan, The Military Divorce Handbook (ABA Family Law Section 2006), Chapter 8, “Pension and Property Division.”
Brett R. Turner, “State Court Treatment of Military and Veteran’s Disability Benefits: A 2004 Update,” Divorce Litigation (May 2004)
Helpful websites– Interim CRSC Regulations: http://www.dod.mil/comptroller/fmr/07b/07b_ic_r01_06.pdf Computing VA compensation rates:http://www.vba.va.gov/bln/21/Rates/comp01.htm Combined ratings Table (for several disabilities): http://www.warms.vba.va.gov/regs/38CFR/BOOKC/PART4/S4_25.DOC Computing CRDP by rate and year:http://www.dod.mil/dfas/retiredpay/concurrent retirement and disabilitypay/crdppaymentrates.html CRSC payment rate: http://www.military.com/Resources/ResourcesContent/0,13964,38339,00.html#3 Military Officers Association of America website on CRSC: https://www.moaa.org/controller.asp?pagename=serv_benefits_pay_crsc Army Human Resources Command - CRSC overview:https://www.hrc.army.mil/site/crsc/ DFAS website on CRDP:http://www.dod.mil/dfas/retiredpay/concurrentretir ementanddisabilitypay.html.