Veteran Calvin Murphy had argued in court that his disability benefits should be off limits to his ex-wife, but 19th Circuit Judge James Batzer disagreed.
Murphy, 61, testified in the trial that he served a harrowing 5 1/2 months in Vietnam and mistakenly believed for decades that he had killed a fellow soldier during a North Vietnamese attack. He was wracked by guilt that his entire squadron had been ambushed, shot in the head, and found with cards in their mouths that said Yankee go home. He was not with his squadron at the time of the ambush.
Murphy said he was torn up emotionally from the experienceduring his 24-year marriage to Karen Murphy, he sometimes slept with a gun, was tormented by nightmares, and used drugs and alcohol. In the early 1990s, he stopped drinking and sought treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Calvins attorney, Wendy Divozzo of Cadillac, argued that federal law says that a veterans benefits belong solely to the person disabled, and should never be diverted to a third party under any circumstances.
Karen Murphys attorney, Connie Krusniak of Ludington, said that other state and federal laws across the country say that disability pay is for the benefit of the veteran and the family, and that those laws are backed by rulings in previous cases. Judge Batzer agreed with her interpretation.
Krusniak argued that an ex-spouse of a military veteran deserves something after supporting her spouse through years of emotional upheaval arising from the disability of post traumatic stress disorder, which is expressed in nightmares, depression, drug and alcohol abuse. A spouse also deserves something for supporting the partner through doctor appointments, rehab and physical handicaps.
Judge Batzer based his judgment, in part, on family law and the income of Calvin and Karen, and the amount of money each needed to survive.
Calvin Murphy, who is unemployed, collects a total of $3886 each month, including $2,400 for military disability, $1,186 in Social Security disability, and $300 in disability income through the National Park Service where he used to work, according to court records. That amount will go down significantly after the divorce.
Karen Murphy, who is also unemployed, collects about $700 per month in disability.
Judge Batzer awarded Karen $800 a month indefinitely until her death or until she remarries. That judgment leaves Calvin $3,195 a month on which to live.
Judge Batzer was clear in his ruling that military disability benefits should be used as a basis for alimony, or whats now called spousal support.
Part of the problem, attorney Divozzo said, is that state and federal law are contradictory and unclear, and that rulings have varied around the country.
I am telling Calvin and the other vets that if they want to help the young veterans coming back from Iraq or Afgahnistan, to tell them not to get married unless they have a prenuptial that specifically excludes future VA benefits or service connected benefits. Thats their best shot at having some certainty absent a change in law or a clear ruling that a spouse may not claim those, Divozzo said.
Krusniak declined comment on the ruling.
Calvin, who has already spent jail time for refusing to pay spousal benefits awarded in the first go-round of the case two years ago, said he will appeal the decision. He has has vowed to give up all his disability benefits if he loses on appeal and take the homeless life.
If he is ordered to jail, he said that hell request service in the Middle East.
This whole matter has destroyed my life. I have my home up for sale, and the stress is starting to take its toll on me, but I will keep fighting. I want to go as far as I can and try my best to turn this law around where it is the same everywhere for all vets around the country, he said
When a soldier hangs up his or her uniform, things change. You are treated like an old pair of shoes.