Mike Turner and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity Chairwoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD) have requested that Full Committee Chairman Bob Filner (D-CA) hold a markup of Turner's military child custody legislation, H.R. 4469, before the end of the calendar year. H.R. 4469 was approved by the Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity on July 28th; however the full committee has yet to take action to advance the bill.
In their letter to Chairman Filner, Reps. Turner and Herseth Sandlin note that this week, The Oprah Winfrey Show will profile the issue of service members losing custody of their children due to their military service. During the taping of the program, Oprah spoke with Eva Crouch-Slusher, a Captain in the Kentucky National Guard, who Rep. Turner had previously invited to Washington, DC to meet with Members of Congress to advocate for the protection of servicemembers custody rights. Captain Slusher was mobilized for 18 months with the Kentucky National Guard starting in 2003. Her service was later used as the basis to strip her of custody of her daughter Sara. After an emotionally and financially costly two-year legal battle, Eva regained custody of her daughter.
Rep. Turner's child custody language, which was also included in the House version of the FY2011 National Defense Authorization Act, prohibits courts from permanently altering custody orders during a parent's deployment, and requires pre-deployment custody to be reinstated unless it is not in the best interest of the child. Additionally, the legislation prohibits state court judges from using deployment or possibility of deployment of service members to deny them custody. Since state laws regarding military child custody vary widely, if they offer any protection at all, Rep. Turner has argued for a national baseline standard.
As a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Turner successful included his child custody language in the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) four times. Additionally, Rep. Turner's legislation was approved unanimously by the House of Representatives as a stand-alone bill in 2008.
Throughout the years, Congressman Turner has worked on bipartisan basis to help service members. This year, Congressman Turner has cooperated with Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD) to win support for H.R. 4469. On April 29th, Rep. Turner and Rep. Herseth Sandlin met with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to advocate for federal safeguards of military parents' rights in custody cases. More information on Rep. Turner and Rep. Herseth Sandlin's meeting with Secretary Gates can be found here.
The Honorable Bob Filner
House Committee on Veterans' Affairs
House of Representatives
335 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Chairman Filner:
The Oprah Winfrey Show is expected to highlight the issue of servicemembers losing custody of their children due to their military service this week. This is an injustice that could be remedied by passage of HR 4469, which is pending before your committee. We are writing to ask the full Veterans' Affairs Committee to mark up HR 4469 during the 111th Congress to continue Congress' bipartisan commitment to protecting the rights of our servicemembers.
As you know, HR 4469 is legislation which prohibits family court judges from permanently modifying a child custody order while a service member-parent is deployed. The bill also precludes these judges from taking custody away from service members based on their past or future deployments. This bill has passed the House on numerous occasions with strong bipartisan support, as either a stand-alone suspension bill, or as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This year, in addition, to being included in the FY 2011 House-passed NDAA, HR 4469 passed the Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity on July 15, 2010.
The Oprah Winfrey Show will profile problems encountered by women in the military this week. We expect that episode to air October 15, 2010. During the taping of this program, Oprah spoke with Eva Slusher, who had custody of their child prior to her deployment, arranged to leave her child with her ex-husband during her deployment, and whose ex-husband refused to relinquish custody after her deployment. Only after two years and 25 thousand dollars, was Eva able to regain custody of her child.
As the Veterans' Affairs Committee concludes its for the 111th Congress, it is our hope that the Committee will take up HR 4469. Additionally, as you continue to look at this issue, we invite you talk with Eva personally, and listen to her story. Our men and women in uniform deserve the peace of mind that their military service will not be used against them in their child custody disputes.
For additional information, your staff may contact Joe Heaton (firstname.lastname@example.org) in Rep. Turner's office at 5-6465 or Eric Bursch (email@example.com) in Rep. Herseth Sandlin's office at 5-2801.
Stephanie Hersth Sandlin
Member of Congress
Michael R. Turner
Member of Congress