Howell v. Howell – Victory For Disabled Veterans!

 

May 22, 2017 2:30 pm

In an 8-0 decision on the Howell v. Howell matter (docket 15-1031), SCOTUS finally struck down states that stole disability pay from Veterans to pay for alimony and child support.

Second Class Citizen previously noted how state family courts were superseding law and stealing from Veterans’ disability benefits in direct contravention of previously existing federal law. This SCOTUS decision STOPS that travesty of justice.

Holding: A state court may not order a veteran to indemnify a divorced spouse for the loss in the divorced spouse’s portion of the veteran’s retirement pay caused by the veteran’s waiver of retirement pay to receive service-related disability benefits.

Judgment: Reversed and remanded, 8-0, in an opinion by Justice Breyer on May 15, 2017. Justice Thomas filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment. Justice Gorsuch took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

The Connection: Non-custodial Parents and Suicide Rates

 

Second Class Citizen started as a rights group for non-custodial parents. We experienced the bias of the family court system firsthand. Then as Veterans ourselves, we began recognizing patterns. Service Members (SM) and Veterans are disproportionately stripped of their parental rights in family court. Divorce and custody attorneys routinely cite “PTSD” and military service as “threat to child”, without any legal obligation to substantiate their claims. In any other court, such unsubstantiated fictions would be ordered stricken from the record. In family court, this is the norm.

The end result of these accusations and the SM or Veteran’s inability to effectively combat them in court is an increasingly high rate of suicide. Second Class Citizen combed through three years of active duty military suicide records from DOD and discovered that one third of active duty military suicides are due to family/custody matters. SM and Veterans are literally killing themselves in despair.

This discovery led us to pivot on our mission. It became clear that this was not just a battle for the rights of non-custodial parents. This is a battle to save lives. Add to this that Second Class Citizen recently became aware of another suicide demographic – the children of these custody battles. Now it is not just SM and Veterans taking their lives – it is their children as well. This is far beyond unacceptable. This is utterly unconscionable.

Second Class Citizen’s goal is not just to “prevent” these suicides – they are a symptom of a much larger problem. The goal is to change the family courts and how SM & Veterans, and their children are treated in family court and remove the cause of so many of these needless, tragic deaths. Without much-needed change, these suicides will continue. The Veteran community of the United States is at its largest point since WWII. SM and Veterans need our help now. The current family court system represents a clear and present danger to them, and to their families. Please, help us to help them.

One Third – Far Too Many

 

June 18, 2016 5:03 pm

US military Service Sembers (SM) and Veterans choose to take their own lives far, far too often. There are myriad reasons this happens – each one an individual tragedy with a very human story behind it. They leave behind grieving family, friends, and Brothers & Sisters in Arms. Ideally, no SM or Veteran would ever take their own life – in a perfect world. But at least some of these were preventable tragedies.

Second Class Citizen received three years’ worth of data on SM back in March – the actual reports on each individual suicide, in heart-breaking detail. We processed that data over the course of several weeks and discovered one of the primary reasons; SM and transitioning Veterans don’t stand a chance in family court. They deploy, they serve their country, and they come back to broken homes. Spouses who take their children, clean out their bank accounts, and make off with whole households.

These SM are typically lower or mid-rank enlisted men, aged 22-26 years old. They are just getting started in their careers, and they do not make enough to counter a devastating blow like this. Pay for an E5/Sergeant (the average affected rank) is just $30,661.20 per year.

These young SM find themselves in family court, begging just to be part of their children’s lives. They don’t stand a chance – particularly if the belligerent spouse has an attorney, either pro bono or paid. The SM has just completed or is still among, the ranks in the military where their entire life hinges on following orders. They have not yet learned to lead, take charge, or act autonomously. Often in the process of a custody dispute, these SM find themselves discharged from, or make the decision to leave, the military. This leaves them with even fewer resources.

The maze of the family courts coupled with the inherent bias against military or Veterans in that environment is often overwhelming. Divorce attorneys for belligerent spouses more often than not attempt to paint the SM or Veteran as “unstable, dangerous, unfit”, citing “profession of arms” or exploiting PTSD in the case of wounded SM & Veterans. Second Class Citizen founder T. Popp – Operator One – is a highly decorated Green Beret & member of the elite 75th Ranger Regiment. He was called an “assassin” by his wife’s attorney. I was called a “murderer and a professional spy” in Pierce County, WA family court. There are literally dozens of stories like this.

The result is nearly always the same. The SM or Veteran ends up destitute and in some cases living in his vehicle or homeless, with no recourse, no legal support of any kind, no way to fight back. In at least one third of these cases, the SM or Veteran chooses to take his own life out of sheer desperation and loss of hope.