A proposal to expand the program that offers money and benefits to families of troops convicted of crimes is "inappropriate," according to a new Defense Department report.
The Pentagon already provides financial support during a transition period to spouses and children of service members convicted of domestic abuse -- as long as they remain separated from the abuser. The proposal looks at whether the program should include the dependents of troops convicted of any crime under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice.
While so-called transitional compensation serves a purpose in limited circumstances, "DoD does not support an expansion of the program," states the report, which was recently submitted to Congress.
Lawmakers ordered the study as part of the 2014 National Defense Authorization act after lobbying by Kris Johnson, a now-divorced military spouse. In 2011, she turned in her then-husband, now-retired Lt. Col. Jim Johnson, for having an affair with an Iraqi woman and other violations -- even though it meant she faced the possibility of losing all military pay and benefits as a result.
He was the former commander of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team in Vicenza, Italy. He was charged with six USMJ violations and 27 counts, including bigamy, fraud, forgery and adultery, after the affair became public.
Jim Johnson was convicted of 15 of those counts, but only sentenced to a reprimand and a $300,000 fine. The seemingly light punishment was thought to be out of mercy for his wife. Had Johnson been sentenced to prison or had his retirement denied, she and the children would have lost the military pay and benefits they were entitled to receive.
According to the report, lighter sentences are an acceptable, even encouraged, way of preserving financial benefits for family members of spouses convicted of crimes.
"There exists within the military justice system the ability for convening and sentencing authorities to take financial and other circumstances into consideration," the report says. "Convening authorities possess the statutory authority to defer, waive or commute forfeiture of pay and allowances in those cases deemed appropriate."
Kris Johnson said condoning this type of sentencing is unjust.
"My point is that they need to go ahead and properly punish the lawbreaker," she said. "It's not OK because you are letting people with criminal conduct get off so that you can protect the family. That's appreciated by the family, but at the same time, what does that do to the good order and discipline of the force?"
Johnson said she's not going to let the report stop her from continuing her efforts to bring attention to the matter and expand the transitional-assistance program.
"I'm not ready to put the issue to rest," she said. "I think there's still support in the House and the Senate for something like this to occur."
-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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