The Taunton Daily Gazette originally covered the story of a Berkley man who is fighting to keep his own disability benefits through his divorce as well as raise awareness of other’s struggle.
Berkley resident Matt Kozatek is part of a national movement fighting for the rights of veterans to keep their military disability compensation from being taken away as the result of divorce proceedings.
“I’m fighting for the other veterans in similar situations that are unable to fight the legal battle because it’s very expensive,” said Kozatek, a veteran of the Army for 21 years.
Kozatek is currently in the middle of divorce proceedings taking place near his former home in the state of New York, and he fears that he is going to lose his veterans disability pay.
“I don’t know what is going to transpire in the end,” he said. “But right now where things are, it’s looking like it could go either way.”
Kozatek is working with Operation Firing For Effect, a national advocacy group “devoted to the protection and improvement and entitlements and services earned by our men and women in uniform,” to spread the word about the issue.
“Guys from combat zones come back missing limbs,” Kozatek said. “They are getting back and their spouses are divorcing them. There are also females getting injured and their husbands are divorcing them. What happens is the veteran is coming back after fighting in a war and is disabled now and has to fight again to keep the disability compensation that is being given to him, and is being taken away in divorce court. We are trying to get the word out about it.”
While state courts have calculated veterans disability into divorce settlements, the Operation Firing for Effect organization believes that the justice system shouldn’t consider veterans disability for alimony. The organization believes courts are violating the U.S. Code Title 38, Section 5301(a), which says that payments “of benefit due or to become due under any law administered by the Secretary” shall “be exempt from the claim of creditors, and shall not be liable to attachment, levy or seizure by or under any legal or equitable process.”
“There is a real problem in civil courts with the definition of what vets diability compensation is,” said Jere Beery, public relations director for Operation Firing For Effect. “The federal government considers it to be tax exempt, not income, not subject to seizure or garnishment. But state courts have found it differently and use vets compensation as alimony.”
Operation Firing For Effect held a rally in Las Vegas in mid-May to promote the protection of veterans disability benefits, and the event was promoted by country singer Willie Nelson.
Kozatek said he has a blown disc and arthritis related to his military service. But he said that there are veterans in more difficult situations who are having their veterans disability taken from them as the result of divorce.
“There are guys are coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan and have gotten injured, and even the guys who came back from the Vietnam War, and have gotten injured,” Kozatek said. “They should be able to keep their disability compensation.”