Proposed Legislation On Military Benefits Drawing National Attention

Friday, March 18th 2011, 10:42 pm
By: News 9

Dana Hertneky, News 9

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Proposed legislation is getting national attention. The bills going through the Oklahoma Legislature revolve around military benefits and how much an ex or child should be entitled to.

SB 528 and SB 917 both passed out of the Senate this week but if they become law, some say the laws would turn Oklahoma into a military divorce mecca.

Col. Jerry Shiles served in the military for 33 years. He was deployed several times and stationed at the Pentagon as well as overseas.

"My wife was never able to establish her own career because she was following my multiple deployments," said Col. Shiles.

And when Shiles got divorced, his ex-wife got half of his military retirement.

"I had no problem sharing my military retirement benefits with her because she had sacrificed fully as much as I had during that time," said Shiles.

But the proposed legislation said service members would not have to share their military retirement if they were married less than 10 years or if their spouse remarries.

"What this bill really does is slap them in the face and say you're contribution to your spouses military career is discounted and worth nothing," said Phillip Tucker, a family law attorney who represents both service members and military spouses.

He also argues retirement benefits from the spouse would still be split.

"No one would say 100 percent of mine is mine, and half of yours is mine is equitable," said Tucker.

"You don't want to kick anyone to the curb, but at the same time you don't want someone to become a jackpot that you can go after for benefits," counters Oklahoma Sen. Steve Russell (R ) Oklahoma City who authored the bills.

Sen. Russell said the legislation would simply protect members of the military from losing their hard earned benefits, especially in cases where there are multiple divorces.

In addition, it would keep hostile fire and eminent danger pay from becoming part of a divorce settlement.

"The experiences that a soldier goes through in combat are not shared risks and neither should those pay outs be shared," said Sen. Russell.

The legislation also said military combat pay or injury pay can not be used to compute or be garnished for child support.

If the bills pass, Oklahoma would do what no other state or Congress has done, so the debate is attracting national attention, including Col. Shile's former colleges at the Pentagon.

"While the Dept. of Defense will not take a stance on state legislation, everybody I have talked to has looked at this with fear that this is going to send the wrong message," said Shiles.

Senator Russell however said not all military folks feel that way. In fact he said he has the support of the Oklahoma Secretary of Veterans Affairs Rita Aragon.