3 Possible Legal Issues Surrounding Military Retirement Benefits

One of the perks of choosing a career in the military is what comes after – retirement benefits. As a US Service member, you are eligible for pensions and medical benefits upon retirement, which will certainly come in handy in your post-military life. To retire from the military, you must have typically  been in service for at least 20 years. However, there are certain instances where you can retire due to medical reasons. In this blog, we are going to look at some of the legal issues surrounding military retirement benefits.


1. Imprisonment

Being incarcerated could affect your VA benefits. If you are convicted of a crime and imprisoned for more than 60 days, your retirement benefits (including your pensions, disability compensation, and education benefits) may be stopped or reduced. The payments will typically be resumed upon your release. 

However, this will depend on the type of crime you are charged with – whether it is a misdemeanor or a felony – and the type of benefit you were getting. In most cases, imprisonment will not have a major impact on your pension, unless of course your conviction involved criminal disloyalty to the US – for example, treason, espionage, sabotage, etc.

2. Divorce

Former spouses of service members may be eligible for certain benefits in the event of a divorce under the Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act. These benefits may include a portion of the service member’s medical care and retirement pay. The ex-spouse can petition for direct payment of their share of the retirement pension from DFAS. The court may approve and grant a court order to enforce the petition on the grounds of: 

  • Alimony
  • Child support
  • Division of retirement pension as an asset if the couple was married for at least 10 years

Direct payments will stop in the event of: 

  • The retired service member’s death 
  • The former spouse’s death 
  • Complete fulfilment of the terms of the court order 

Depending on how a Decree of Divorce and the accompanying Domestic Relations Order are drafted,  a dependent of a servicemember may lose tens and even in some instances hundreds of thousands of dollars in accrued retirement benefits if not properly prepared.  Hiring a firm with a depth of experience in this area can make all the difference to ensure benefits are not curtailed.

3. SGLI Beneficiary Disputes

Every service member is automatically awarded coverage referred to as Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) when they join the military. This coverage also provides Traumatic Injury Protection (TSGLI), which offers financial assistance in the event of traumatic injuries during active duty, allowing the members to stay with their loved ones while recovering from their injuries. Payment from SGLI can be as much as $400,000, making it one of the most lucrative coverages in the military. 

However, there are certain legal issues surrounding SGLI that have led to very expensive mistakes in the past. Usually, the coverage is paid out to the primary and secondary beneficiaries named in the policy upon the death of the service member – normally the spouse and children, respectively. In the event of a divorce, however, you may decide to choose another primary beneficiary for your SGLI (e.g. your parents, your children, or even a subsequent spouse). If you fail to change the name of the primary beneficiary before you die, the proceeds will go to your former spouse and there is very little that your survivors can do about it.  Alternatively, Prudential Insurance Co. which services the SGLI policies may in some instances award the policy proceeds to heirs at law. The effect of which in some cases can be disheartening as the proceeds may go to individuals whom the servicemember would have never wanted to leave an interest to. Fortunately, in the event that an SGLI designation is not correct because it was not submitted or there were issues with the submitted form, in many cases our firm can assist with ensuring that the benefits are awarded to the intended beneficiaries. 

It is always advisable to consult an attorney if you are unsure about the status of your military retirement benefits. As a general rule of thumb, be sure to regularly check and ascertain that your beneficiaries are clearly outlined. For any legal assistance, contact the Amsberry Law Firm now at (210) 354-2244. 

Attorney Russell Amsberry

Attorney Russell J.G. Amsberry

Attorney Russell J.G. Amsberry founded the Amsberry Law Firm in 1995 with the goal of providing clients with exceptional, focused representation on their issues. His success as a legal advocate has been reflected in the numerous professional honors he has received, such as speaking engagements and inclusion in Scene in SA magazine’s listing of the best lawyers in San Antonio, a Distinguished rating from Martindale-Hubble, and an amazing rating from Avvo. [ Attorney Bio ]

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The Amsberry Law Firm, founded in 1995, has helped thousands of clients overcome their unique legal challenges.

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