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Proposal Gives Help to Spouses of Some Convicted Troops

The spouses of retirement eligible troops who are convicted of crimes and have their pension taken away as a result could soon receive cash payouts to help them get back on their feet.

The benefit proposal is the brain child of Kris Johnson, former wife of Col. Jim Johnson, who pleaded guilty to 15 counts of adultery, bigamy and fraud and was convicted on  two others. Rather than having his retirement stripped as punishment for his crimes, the courts marital demoted him to Lt. Col. and levied a $300,000 fine. The light sentence was generally viewed as being given out of compassion for Kris Johnson, who is entitled to a portion of the now-retired Colonel's pension even after divorce thanks to the duration of their marriage.

Kris Johnson began pushing for a law that would give spouses of retirement qualified convicted troops a portion of the pension, regardless of whether or not it was taken from the service member as punishment. The spouses, she said, are often the ones who turn in the service member for wrongdoing, putting themselves at risk of having their entire livelihood taken away if the service member is convicted. Becoming a whistle blower should not come with loosing everything, she told me.

A new measure included in the Senate version of the annual defense authorization bill would give spouses of retirement-eligible troops convicted of wrong doing, like Kris Johnson, transitional benefits. Kris Johnson, whose now ex-husband was convicted of a series of crimes but spared most punishment by the courts martial as means of preserving her benefits, speaks at the 2014 Military.com Spouse Summit in Washington, D.C.

Enter this proposal, which was included in a Senate version of a annual defense funding bill, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Not unlike the payout given military spouse domestic violence victims, it would give a temporary, transitional payout of a base rate of about $1,200 plus a variety of additional allowances (based on these rules) for up to three years to the spouses of service members whose crimes result in loosing their pension.

The measure was included in the current Senate version through an amendment by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.). To become law it must first be passed by the entire Senate, included in the final version of the bill and signed by the President.

Meanwhile, Kris said her work is not done. While no new measure would impact her personally, she is hoping that eventually a law will be passed guaranteeing spouses of retirement eligible convicted troops who otherwise meet the retirement benchmarks (at least 20 years married, 20 years of service and 20 years of marriage and service overlapping) 50 percent of the pension for life, not just some transitional benefits. She wants the family's well-being to be entirely taken out of any sentencing consideration by providing for them outside of that decision.

"What I'm looking for is the spouses not to not loose their portion of the marital property that is the pension," she told me. "The bottom line of what this does is take the family out of the equation of sentencing. Ninety-nine percent of the time the family is taken into account – and then you have these law breaking service members getting away with lighter sentences, like my ex-husband."

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