Articles Posted in Military Law

Copy-of-Copy-of-Kids-are-expensive-paul-blog-post-YouTube-Livestream-Video-1-300x169What Is a Military Letter of Reprimand?

A military letter of reprimand (LOR) is an administrative censure given to a servicemember for alleged failure to comply with military rules or regulations. A letter of reprimand is a serious matter, and servicemembers subject to receiving one should carefully consider their options. A letter of reprimand is important because this letter might stay in a servicemember’s file and impact the ability of that servicemember to be promoted, selected for new training and assignments, or lead to administrative discharge in some circumstances.  Any servicemember that is committed to the military as a career could find an LOR in their record to be seriously problematic.

Letters of reprimand are often issued by General Officers and may sometimes be referred to by the acronym ‘GOMOR’ for General Officer Memorandum of Reprimand.

Servicemembers that are in the process of determining if they are fit to return to duty or should be medically separated or discharged from the military due to their illnesses or injuries participate in the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES). The military calls it integrated because this process is done in conjunction with the federal department of Veterans Affairs to also determine the servicemembers entitlement to VA disability at the same time as determining the servicemember’s entitlement (if any) to military disability for retirement purposes. More information regarding the IDES is located on the VA website here, and the website here.

The possible outcomes from IDES for the military are:

  1. Finding the Servicemember is fit for duty and is returned to duty. There is therefore no medical separation or retirement for the servicemeber. Presumably the servicemember will continue his military service until later separated or retired.

paul-2-300x199One topic in military law important to many veterans is Veterans Affairs (VA) disability. Federal law established the US Department of Veterans Affairs with several important missions to serve our veterans.[i] One of those missions is to provide disability benefits to eligible veterans who are disabled due to injuries or illnesses that have been caused by or made worse through the veteran’s military service.[ii]

What Is VA Disability Compensation?

The VA defines disability compensation as “a tax free monetary benefit paid to Veterans with disabilities that are the result of a disease or injury incurred or aggravated during active military service. Compensation may also be paid for post-service disabilities that are considered related or secondary to disabilities occurring in service and for disabilities presumed to be related to circumstances of military service, even though they may arise after service.”[iii] The VA also provides additional compensation benefits such as dependency and indemnity compensation, special monthly compensation, adapted housing grants, service-disabled veterans’ insurance, and veterans’ mortgage life insurance.

U.S. Military retirement benefits allow military service members to elect to purchase a Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP”).¹ SBP was created by Congress in 1972 and has been amended several times. The SBP is a monthly annuity that, upon the service member’s death, will be paid to the service member’s designated beneficiary, such as a surviving spouse, former spouse, surviving children, or dependent children. If the designated beneficiary is a spouse or former spouse, the annuity is terminated upon death of the spouse or remarriage of the former spouse before age 55. Under the SBP, premiums are deducted from a participating service member’s pay (including retirement pay). The military service member may or may not elect to provide this annuity and may change that election. 

Can SBP Be Distributed In A Divorce Settlement? 

Yes, SBP can be distributed in divorce. The most common way this is done is by execution of a military Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO”). The QDRO should specify if the spouse is awarded a portion of the service member’s military retirement. It should correctly follow the format prescribed by the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS”) to show how the military retirement is to be calculated.² Further if SBP is awarded to the former spouse, it should clearly state that designation and order the military service member to execute whatever document is required by DFAS to notify them of this action. Further, the QDRO should state that the military service member may not change the SBP beneficiary without written approval of the court or the former spouse.   

Grayson v. Grayson Tennessee Court of Appeals

Cole Law Blog

Military Law Attorney Paul Tennison

A recent Tennessee Court of Appeals case spent significant time analyzing and discussing United States Department of Defense Financial Management Regulations regarding military retirement benefits in divorce. Grayson v. Grayson, No. E2020-01339-COA-R3-CV, 2021 Tenn. App. LEXIS 354 (Ct. App. Sep. 3, 2021).

Cole Law military law blogVA disability law can be daunting for many eligible veterans who want to submit a VA disability claim or wish to appeal a negative disability determination. One of the main concepts that is difficult for service members to understand is which injuries or illnesses VA disability will cover. The answer is “only those disabilities that the applicant can prove are service connected.”1

What Is Considered a Service Connected Injury?

During my experience representing disabled veterans, it has become apparent to me that many VA disability claims are denied because the VA has determined the injury or illness is not service connected. Service connected means “an injury or illness that was incurred or aggravated during active military service.”2 In VA decision letters language similar to the following is often used:

Military Law Attorney Paul Tennison

Military Law Attorney Paul Tennison

Many current or former service members and their current or former spouses are generally aware of the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act. However, from my experience in working with military family law matters, it is an area of law that many people misunderstand. The purpose of this article is to help members and former spouses better understand their rights and obligations under the “USFSPA”.

The Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act is a federal law codified at 10 U.S.C. § 1408, et. seq. The Act gives state courts the authority to treat disposable retired pay as property of the member and spouse in divorce. In the definitions section of the Act, the law specifies that only “disposable retired pay” as defined in the act is divisible. The Act prescribes important limitations, i.e. it only applies when the spouse or former spouse was married to the service member for at least ten years during which time the member performed at least ten years of service creditable for retired pay. The law does not authorize courts to order any member to apply for retirement at any specific time. All payments under the USFSPA cannot exceed 50 percent of the disposable retired pay of a member. If there is more than one court order, they are satisfied on a “first-come, first-served basis”.

Cole Law BlogMany service members understand the frustration of being wrongfully denied disability compensation from the Veterans Administration. In my experience I have observed veterans who became frustrated with the process and ultimately gave up. This is most unfortunate. If you have suffered an injury or illness due to your military service, you should be compensated under federal law. However, the failure of many service members to understand the VA system can cause self-inflicted problems.

I recommend the following five best ways to present persuasive disability evidence as an effective strategy:

  1. Recognize your mission and ensure that everything you submit helps further your mission.

Collecting military challenge coins is something that service members understand. However, those outside the military may have never seen them before or comprehend their unique history. Many purposes are served by challenge coins in the military. One is to reward exceptional performance during training or combat operations. Rewarding excellence is commonly utilized among military leaders to incentivize excellence and raise the morale of a unit. At other times coins are awarded to all service members involved in a particular unit or mission. This shows that each Solider awarded the coin belongs to that unit or contributed to the mission. When I see a military challenge coin, I try to identify the unit, operation, or other insignia to determine if I recognize those features.

I was unaware of the traditions of military challenge coins until I arrived at West Point. As a cadet at the United States Military Academy, I often interacted with Army officers and senior non-commissioned officers who had on their desk or in their office a large collection of military challenge coins. I would sometimes recognize the unit insignia of a well known Army unit or a combat operation or training center that was displayed on a specific coin.

I distinctly remember the first time I was personally awarded a military challenge coin. As a cadet, I volunteered to be on the Color Guard during my sophomore year. As part of my Color Guard duties that year, I often carried general officer flags during parades. One day, as I was performing that duty for the Commandant of Cadets, Brigadier General Robert L. Caslen, the General surprised me by shaking my hand and thanking me for doing an excellent job in performing my duties. He presented me with a coin bearing one star and the West Point insignia that to this day is the military challenge coin of the highest rank that I have been awarded.

How Does the Army ROTC Program Work?

Military Law Attorney Paul Tennison

Military Law Attorney Paul Tennison

The US Military’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps is a system through which many college students can pursue an undergraduate education while conducting military training that prepares them for a period of service as a commissioned military officer. According to the US Army, “The overall mission of the Army ROTC Program is to produce commissioned officers in the quality, quantity, and academic disciplines necessary to meet active Army and reserve component requirements.”1 Army ROTC includes a chain of command starting with a Commanding General and going down through a Battalion Commander and Professor of Military Science (PMS) to individual cadets.

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