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Retiree Has Abandoned Their Disabled Children

Ms. Vicki

Dear Ms. Vicki,

I married my husband when we were 18 years old and I was pregnant. He went into the military and served for 20 years. We have five children together. One is severely handicapped and the youngest child, who we adopted from one of my husband's family members, has autism and other issues.

I went to school and earned an associate's degree and bachelor's degree, and I've worked throughout most of our 33 years of marriage. My husband was gone a lot with the military, and I later learned that he volunteered for many of those trips.

When he retired in 2003, he was rated 50 percent disabled by the VA and he had trouble finding a job. He finally said if he took a job as a contractor with the Army in Korea for two years, we could pay off our bills. I had no idea then that he would never come back or help support the household.

He never told me how much he made. He slowly put less and less money in our joint account, and then he refinanced our house and took my name off the deed.

I was constantly blamed for spending too much money. He said it was all my fault even though he was running up bills like crazy.

He would not come home to visit, saying we couldn't afford for him to travel. I was controlled and abused throughout our marriage, emotionally and physically. I was terrified of him. I did what he said always. I never questioned him.

When his contract was up after two years, he said he had to extend it for another year. Then, in 2008, he emailed me and said our lives were going in two different directions. I asked him to come home repeatedly, but he made excuses for why he couldn't. Then he told me he wanted a trial separation.

Four years ago, our son was dying and I begged my husband to come home. He finally came for four days and spent only one day with our son. I told him not to leave because our son was expected to die very soon, but my husband said he had to go back to work. Three days after he left, our son died. My husband decided not to come home for the funeral.

When we went to court in November 2011, he was ordered to pay alimony, child support and half of his military pension. I got my joint bank account cleaned out and closed with the help of his family. He made angry and threatening phone calls to me and cut off all communication with our children.

I have since heard that before we were separated he had gotten two separate women pregnant in the Philippines and that he has a son and a daughter there. Over the years, he has canceled Tricare for me and the children and switched us from Prime to Standard. I have had breast cancer several times, fallen at work, lost the use of my arm, lost the use of my leg and I have so many medical bills. He knows this, but he says it is not his problem. He even fought me on renewing my ID card.

Our handicapped daughter is 16 and will never be able to take care of herself. We have it in one part of the divorce papers that he is supposed to support her past her 18th birthday, but he hates her so much that he made it known he wants to stop supporting her when she turns 18. It probably doesn't even matter. He has been in contempt of court so many times and no one cares or ever does anything. Legally, we're still married because he hasn't even signed the divorce papers!

I still do not receive half of his pension. The company he worked for informed me that his last day was Jan. 30, 2016. They said he voluntarily quit. I went to the child support office in Sacramento to open a new case, but I have no idea how to find out where he might be working now. Would the military have to be informed if he is getting or using the military facilities or supporting his other children?

Is there anything else I can do? Is applying for VA pension separate from the retirement?

-- Abandoned by Airman Husband

Dear Abandoned,

Thank you for reading the column and for writing me. I have to admit that your story is heartbreaking. However, I know the emotions your story evokes in me probably won't help your situation.

From your report, it sounds like you have spent years on this merry-go-round with your husband, fighting for support that is rightfully yours while your husband continues to dodge accountability and responsibility. There are a lot of questions and advice that I have, but I will try to focus on just a few because I don't want to overwhelm you and add more stress to your situation.

First, I hope you have legal representation with a lawyer who understands military marriage and military culture. However, if you do, I don't understand why your attorney hasn't filed a motion on your behalf. The judge should not allow your husband to avoid the legal proceedings. But I'm not a lawyer or a judge.

Second, your husband is clearly dodging child and spousal support. But to answer your question, as a retiree, your husband and his minor children are entitled to use military facilities and the military wouldn't have to know. My point is that your husband is retired so he doesn't answer to a chain of command like he did when he was on active-duty service.

Your situation illustrates the advice I give to many military spouses: Though many marriages are over long before the service member retires, it can get harder if a divorce decree or legal separation is not done before they retire. Once they retire, there is no one in the military who can hold them accountable.

I know it is difficult, but I hope you have close family and friends who can be supportive. In the meantime, please contact Ex-Spouses of Servicemembers for Equality (EX-POSE). Their phone number is 703-941-5844. Here are a few services they provide:

•EX-POSE provides information for spouses regarding separation and or divorce from active-duty, reserve or retired military service members. They also help military service members with their questions regarding separation and or divorce.

•EX-POSE informs spouses about their eligibility for potential share of the military pension, which is not an automatic entitlement right but is a legal interest.

•EX-POSE explains the benefits of requirements of the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP), which ends one year from the date of the actual divorce unless appropriate action is taken. EX-POSE provides an attorney referral service for EX-POSE members only.

-- Ms. Vicki

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Contributor

Ms. Vicki is a native of Dallas, has been the Dear Abby for the military community since her column began in 2005. A licensed therapist and licensed clinical social worker, Ms. Vicki holds a Master of Science in social work and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology.

Ms. Vicki appears regularly on Military.com and in the Fort Campbell Courier. Her column has also appeared in the Washington (D.C.) Times and in the Heidelberg (Germany) Post Herald. She has been featured on CNN, CBS, ABC and NBC.

Looking for advice about your military life? Email Ms. Vicki here. Find Ms. Vicki on Facebook here.  Find Ms. Vicki on Twitter here.

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