This 'Rose' sports thorn for veterans

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By Marie E. Matyjaszek

Having recently celebrated Memorial Day, I thought it was fitting to write an article about Veterans’ benefits. 

In the U.S. Supreme Court case Charlie Rose v. Barbara Rose, 481 US 619 (1987), Charlie argued against his Veterans’ Administration (VA) benefits being used as income for his child support obligation.

A U.S. Circuit Court in Tennessee held Charlie in contempt for failing to pay his child support. Unlike many other parties who don’t pay support, Charlie was a completely disabled veteran, and his VA benefits were his primary source of income. The lower court determined that his VA benefits could be used for the purposes of child support.  Charlie disagreed, and appealed to the Court of Appeals, which I’m sure to his dismay, upheld the lower court’s decision. The case made its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, where Charlie lost once again.

Charlie’s argument was short and sweet – only the Veterans’ Administration had “exclusive jurisdiction to specify payments of child support from the disability benefits it provides.” Federal law grants the VA discretionary authority to determine how a veteran’s children are to receive disability monies; however, as opined by the U.S. Supreme Court, this law “is not an exclusive grant of authority to the VA to order that child support be paid from disability benefits, and does not indicate that exercise of the VA’s discretion could yield independent child support determinations in conflict with existing state-court orders.”

If the law had meant for the VA’s decisions to usurp state statutes in this regard, the Supreme Court believed it would have expressly provided for that power. The state courts are the ones most familiar with handling child support cases, and it didn’t make sense for the VA to control what it had little knowledge of.

The Supreme Court noted VA benefits are not just for the veteran himself, but are for his family as well. Most importantly, the high court ruled that “…although veterans’ disability benefits may be exempt from attachment while in the VA’s hands, once they are delivered to the veteran a state court can require that they be used to satisfy a court order.”

This is one case where the rose truly has a thorn for those receiving veteran benefits.

The author is an Attorney Referee at the Washtenaw County Friend of the Court; however, the views expressed here are her own.  She can be reached by email at matyjasz@hotmail.com. 
 

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