Last week the Senate Armed Services Committee approved three adjustments to the Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act as part of the 2007 defense authorization bill (S 2766). The bill approved by the committee authorizes $441.6 billion for defense, a 3.1 percent increase over last year, as well as $50 billion in emergency supplemental funding for activities supporting the global war on terror and ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
If approved by the full Congress, the changes, which would loosen restrictions on the handling of future court orders for former spouses, would be the first to affect military ex-spouses in 14 years, according to HeraldNet.com.
The most significant change to the Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act would eliminate the 10-year rule requiring the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) to decline requests for the automatic pay of retirement pay to former spouses whose marriage did not last a minimum of 10 years and whose spouse did not complete 10 years of creditable service. The 10-year rule has been used to screen court orders from ex-spouses seeking retirement pay for former military spouses for more than 20 years. If the changes are approved by the full Congress, use of the 10-year rule would end 120 days after the bill is signed by the President. Retroactive sharing based on the change, however, would be prohibited.
Another of the changes approved by the committee directs DFAS accountants to comply with all court requests regarding cost of living adjustments to the former spouse's share of the military spouse's retirement pay. Currently, cost-of-living adjustments are applied only to that portion of the military spouse's retirement pay set as a percentage of a retiree's annuity, not to shares set in dollar amounts. This change would become effective 90 days after the approved bill is signed.
The final change requires DFAS accountants notify retirees and provide them with copies of all court orders regarding the division of retirement pay with former spouses only if the retiree has informed the DFAS that they wish to be notified. Currently, all retirees are notified and receive copies of court orders.
HeraldNet.com reports that DFAS officials claim the retirement pay of 82,887 military retirees is divided with former spouses, including 4,046 court orders satisfying the 10-year rule that were received in 2005.
The bill also seeks to improve compensation and quality of life for men and women in uniform by:
- Authorizing $109.2 billion for military personnel, including costs of pay, allowances, bonuses, death benefits and permanent change of stations moves.
- Authorizing a 3.1 percent across the board pay raise for all uniformed service personnel.
- Authorizing increases in housing allowances for service members.
- Authorizing payment of over 20 types of bonuses and special pays aimed at encouraging enlistment, reenlistment, and continued service by active-duty and Reserve military personnel.
- Authorizing a $70.0 million increase in child care and family assistance services to active-duty and Reserve military families.
- Authorizing full funding of the defense health program.
- Authorizing an initiative to better equip the military health care system to identify and treat early signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other mental disorders experienced by soldiers returning from combat.
In addition, the committee-approved bill increases the death gratuity to $100,000 for survivors of military members whose death resulted from wounds, injuries or illnesses incurred under combat-related conditions or in an operation or area designated as a combat operation or combat zone. The maximum amount of coverage available under the Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance program is also increased under the bill to $400,000 from $250,000.