Military veterans often pay a heavy toll for their service from a physical, emotional and even financial standpoint. A new federal law— the Honoring American Veterans in Extreme Need Act of 2019 or the HAVEN Act— aims to address the latter hardship, providing disabled military veterans with greater protections in bankruptcy proceedings.

Prior to the passage of the HAVEN Act, federal Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Department of Defense disability payments were included when calculating a debtor’s disposable income when in bankruptcy. In other words, this income is subject to the reach of creditors.

By contrast, Social Security disability benefits are exempt from calculating a debtor’s disposable income. The HAVEN Act places military disability benefits in the same protected category as Social Security disability.

The actual language of the new exception reads as follows:

“(IV) any monthly compensation, pension, pay, annuity, or allowance paid under title 10, 37, or 38 in connection with a disability, combat-related injury or disability, or death of a member of the uniformed services, except that any retired pay excluded under this subclause shall include retired pay paid under chapter 61 of title 10 only to the extent that such retired pay exceeds the amount of retired pay to which the debtor would otherwise be entitled if retired under any provision of title 10 other than chapter 61 of that title.”

The HAVEN Act received strong bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, and was endorsed by both the American Bankruptcy Institute and a host of veterans’ advocacy organizations, including the American Legion and VFW. Reps. Lucy McBath (D-GA) and Greg Steube (R-FL) co-sponsored the legislation in the House, while Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and John Cornyn (R-TX) co-sponsored the Senate legislation. President Donald Trump signed the HAVEN Act into law August 23, 2019 and it became effective immediately.

Specific benefits protected under the Haven Act are:

  • Permanent Disability Retired Pay
  • Temporary Disability Retired Pay
  • Retired or Disability Severance Pay for Pre-Existing Conditions
  • Disability Severance Pay
  • Combat Related Special Compensation
  • Survivor Benefit Plan for Chapter 61 Retirees
  • Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance
  • Special Compensation for Assistance with Activities of Daily Living
  • VA Veterans Disability Compensation
  • VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, and
  • VA Veterans Pension.

Veterans advocates pushed for the HAVEN Act following five recent Bankruptcy Court Decisions that held that under previous bankruptcy law, disabled veterans were required to include military disability in their disposable income in bankruptcy proceedings.

The new law also provides relief to a segment of the population that needs assistance. According to the 2018 VA Annual Benefits Report , 4.74 million US veterans—or 25 percent of the total veteran population—receive VA disability benefits.

Veterans also make up a disproportionate share of bankruptcy filers. Nearly 15 percent of both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy filers are veterans, who make up approximately 10 percent of the overall population. Approximately 125,000 veterans filed for bankruptcy in 2017 alone.

Special thanks to Kristina Stanger, shareholder with Nyemaster Goode in Des Moines, Iowa, for her help providing information for this article.